The study also suggests that mental health and substance use services should be better prepared to accommodate the specific needs of bisexual people.
“Our study raises important questions about how we understand and support bisexual youth,” said Dr. Margaret Robinson, project coordinator and member of the Re:searching for LGTBQ Health team at CAMH. “Many people assume that what works for gay and lesbian groups will also work for bisexual people, but these poor mental health indicators suggest that this may not be the case.”
Few studies have examined bisexual mental health and substance use independent of other sexual minority groups and there is a significant gap in knowledge about bisexual health. As a consequence, programs designed for gay, lesbian or transgender youth may not provide the support and mentorship that bisexual youth need.
Using the Risk & Resilience Survey of Bisexual Mental Health, the research team surveyed 405 bisexual-identified people across Ontario, and compared the data on youth (those between age 16 and 24) with adults (25 years and older). The study was published by PLOS ONE.
Overall, results showed that bisexual youth are at greater risk of poor mental health than adults who are bisexual:
- Youth had significantly higher depression scores than adults, with 41 per cent of bisexual youth having scores indicating moderate to severe depression compared with 30 per cent of adults.
- Bisexual youth were also significantly more likely to report considering or attempting suicide, with nearly 30 per cent reporting having considered suicide during the past year (suicidal ideation) compared with 15 per cent of adults. Additionally, nearly 5 per cent of youth surveyed reported having attempted suicide within the past year.
- Youth also scored higher on measures of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, with 26 per cent of youth having a score suggestive of a PTSD disorder, compared with 15 per cent of older bisexuals.
The Risk & Resilience Survey of Bisexual Mental Health used social networks to recruit participants (a method called respondent-driven sampling). Using this data the research team was able to accurately estimate the prevalence of certain health characteristics among socially networked bisexuals in Ontario.
“From the data collected we see that youth are at risk but we also see that these disparities lessen when bisexual people are over age 25,” said Dr. Robinson. “This highlights the fact that things do get better, but we need know why that is and make sure it happens earlier and on a consistent basis.”
One potential next step is to find out which interventions or programs are working for bisexuals, Dr. Robinson said. “Anecdotally we know that having bi-specific social supports improves health outcomes,” she said. “So, for example, this could mean developing more peer support groups for bisexual people, led by bisexuals.”
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health