Category Suicide

The “B” in LGBT: Bisexual People and Behavioral Health

By: Amy Andre, MBA, MA, member of SAMHSA’s Sexual and Gender Minority Interest Group

From September 21-27, we celebrate Bisexuality Awareness Week.  In honor of this upcoming event, I’d like to talk about the “B” in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.  Did you know that, of all those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, half identify as bisexual? That means the “B” the largest segment of the LGBT community.

Bisexual people are people who are attracted to more than one gender (although not necessarily at the same time, to the same extent, or in the same way). Like gay and lesbian people, many bisexual people experience discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and this discrimination can have an impact on health.  According to data from the National Health Information Survey and others, bisexual people face discrimination and higher rates of mental and/or substance use disorders compared to people who are not bisexual.

For years, researchers at medical schools and public health institutions have shown that, compared to their heterosexual peers, gay and lesbian people have higher levels of depression and suicidality, as well as smoking, alcohol and substance misuse, and that these are, in part, linked to homophobia and its effect on behavioral health.  More recent research shows that the same is true for bisexual people, and to an even larger extent.  In addition, the literature shows that bisexual people, compared to their gay and lesbian peers, are less likely to be out of the closet, which might have implications for behavioral health.  One goal of Bisexuality Awareness Week is to call attention to the health disparities faced by this community, and another goal is to highlight the importance of targeted, culturally competent programs to reduce those disparities.

The Administration has taken important steps towards meeting the unique needs of the bisexual community.  Last year the White House’s Office of Public Engagement convened a panel of bisexual community leaders and bisexual health experts to participate in a roundtable discussion on the topic.  And this year, SAMHSA will be hosting a “brown bag” training event for staff to learn about behavioral health in the bisexual community.  SAMHSA has also recommended that sexual orientation (including bisexuality) survey items be added to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, beginning in 2015.

People who identify as bisexual face challenges, but getting the behavioral health care they need doesn’t have to be one of them.  By educating  health care providers about including culturally competent support services to the bisexual community, SAMHSA is working to fulfill its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

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