What’s Behind Bisexual Health Disparities? Start with the Social Aspects

What do social and emotional supports have to do with health outcomes?  A great deal, as it turns out – particularly when it comes to the bisexual community.
March marks the fourth consecutive year that the Boston-based Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) will celebrate Bisexual Health Awareness Month (BHAM).  Through a dedicated social media campaign, BHAM aims to raise awareness of health disparities within the bisexual+ community and promote resources and action.
The 2017 Bisexual Health Awareness Month campaign is focused on social health disparities and building social support and resiliency.
BRC started the campaign in response to growing research about the notable health disparities bisexual people face, when compared with both straight and gay/lesbian identified individuals.  
The data on disparities
A 2015 Human Rights Campaign report, Health Disparities Among Bisexual People, noted that bisexual adults reported double the rate of depression and higher rates of binge drinking, when compared to heterosexual counterparts.  In addition, the report found that bisexual adults were more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors, attempt suicide or think about suicide than heterosexuals, lesbians or gay men.
These findings are supported by other research, including a 2015 Rice University study in which bisexual respondents reported a higher propensity for smoking and using alcohol than straight or gay counterparts.  
The lead author of the Rice study, Bridget Gorman, noted that a significant factor in all these findings was “emotional support. When you compare relative to other groups, bisexuals reported lower rates of getting the emotional support that they felt they needed.”
"Our study illustrates the importance of examining health status among specific sexual minority groups, and not among 'sexual minorities' in the aggregate, since the health profile of bisexual adults differs substantially from that of gay and lesbian adults," Gorman said, in a press release about the study.
Erasure and invisibility
One of the most striking statistics from the HRC report was that 39% of bisexual men and 33% of bisexual women reported not disclosing their orientation to their healthcare provider, as compared to 13% of gay men and 10% of lesbians.
The sense of erasure that bisexual people often report feeling, even within LGBTQ communities, as well as their relative lack of visibility in healthcare settings, are certainly factors that need to be addressed in order to tackle some of these disparities.  Past experiences with and/or the general fear of biphobia prevent many bisexual people from coming out, getting rested, and seeking care.
It is also important to note that transgender people and people of color make up a significant segment of the bisexual community.  About half of trans individuals describe their sexual orientation as bisexual or queer, and more than 40 percent of LGBT people of color identify as bisexual, according to the 2015 HRC report.  This makes it critical to consider the added disparities that may come into play at the intersections of biphobia, racism and transphobia.  
Some takeaways
So what does all this mean for bisexual individuals?  We know that visibility and social support matter, since people who are “out” to their social networks report lower levels of depression and other mental health issues.  If you feel safe and confident in disclosing your identity, this can be an important step to take  Naturally this depends on your environment – which is why allies and advocates should remember to use inclusive language, avoid stereotyping, and call out negative behaviors/comments in others when they occur.  
Finding a culturally competent provider is vital as well.  Mazzoni Center Family & Community Medicine can be a great resource for folks in the Philadelphia area seeking medical and mental health care.  And depending on where you live, tools like the Bisexuality Aware Professional Directory, or the GLMA directory, may be helpful.  
To learn more, follow the 2017 BHM campaign on the BRC’s Twitter @BRC_Central (using #BiHealthMonth and #BHAM17), Facebook, Tumblr, blog, and campaign website. Individuals and organizations are invited to participate in the campaign online and within their own communities.
More resources:
Healthy People 2020 Bisexual Health Fact Sheet: http://www.lgbttobacco.org/files/HP2020BisexualPeople.pdf


Learn more