I’d like to preface this article with the fact that I am not a mental health care professional, nor am I a sexuality specialist; I am simply someone who is bisexual, has bipolar disorder and is keen to understand more… and what better time to do that than during Pride Month!

I can only share with my own experiences and the information from general research that I’ve been able to get my hands on from the internet. So, if nothing else, this is my shout out to those who have the authority or the hunger to study the impact of adverse mental health on one who identifies as LGBTQ+ and furthermore, what could be done to support and prevent the more extreme effects thereof.

But I stress, I can only share with you my two pennyworth and although I have friends from the LGBTQ+ community who suffer with mental illness, it’s certainly not my place to make sweeping statements on the subject. However, I do believe that people who identify as LGBTQ+ are at higher risk of experiencing mental health problems in their life when compared to heterosexuals. Why? Because the LGBTQ+ community can experience bullying, rejection, stigma and discrimination which too often leads to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, isolation and in some cases leads to suicide.

Right, time to fully expose myself in the hope that it helps someone out there feel less alone and reaffirms the reason for why I got out of bed this morning.

I am bisexual. This means I am attracted to both men and women. No, there’s not a sway in favour of one or the other, it’s 50/50. No, not one gender is ever ‘flavour of the month’. Yes, bisexuals make up the larger percentage of the entire LGBTQ+ community (1.)  They are more likely to suffer with mental illness (2). Yes, I fall in love and yes, it’s can be confusing as hell… primarily because of my mental health.

I am bipolar. (Wait, are you bipolar? Or do you suffer with bipolar? … No time to discuss now; that’s a subject for another article.) Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness which effects your moods and is characterised by recurring episodes of extreme or overwhelming mania or depression. Yes, 1 to 2% of the population experience a lifetime where bipolar (3) prevails. Yes, I fall in love (bipolar and love is also another article) and yes, it can be confusing as hell… Especially when you add personality disorder into the mix.

The two combined? The mighty bi bis

  • Bipolar increases the risk of suicide by 20 times (4) and bisexuals are reported to be more likely to take their owns lives compared to the rest of the LGBTQ+ community and heterosexuals (5).
  • The bi bis are more likely to have drug and/or alcohol issues.
  • Compared to other health problems, bipolar is still adversely affected by misunderstanding and stigma and compared to the rest of the community, bisexuals are more likely to fall victim to bi-erasure. To those who are not familiar, this alludes to the tendency to ignore, remove or re-explain evidence of bisexuality both in history, media, and everyday activities (6).
  • The World Health Organisation identifies bipolar as one of the primary causes of lost years of life and health in 15 to 44-y-o (7). LGB individuals living in the most prejudiced communities experience on average, a life expectancy of 12 years less than those living in less prejudiced communities (8).
  • Mental health has a huge impact on your family and friends as does sexuality depending on where you live in the world. In the right location however, it’s a temporary impact… Please don’t confuse the two.

A bonus fact……on average it takes 10.5 years to receive a correct diagnosis for bipolar in the UK and before bipolar is diagnosed there is a misdiagnosis an average of 3.5 times (9).

I like this fact because I think it mirrors my journey wonderfully, albeit fuelled with irony. Yes, it did take about 10.5 years to be formerly diagnosed with bipolar and it took nearly the same time to realise and accept I was bisexual. Indeed, my equivalent to misdiagnosis was my sleepless nights thinking “I’m gay”, “I’m straight”, “I’m gay”, “I’m straight” … plot twist, you’re bi.

Up to this point, I can’t help but feel that I have thrown a load of negative facts at you but how else do we make it heard, seen and hopefully improve the situation unless you can see it in black and white?

This isn’t a tiny violin I’m playing. But it is me smashing two cymbals together because those statistics are alarming and they scare the hell out of me because I am one of them. Not to mention that I had to sieve through the internet to find the facts which are so often generalised by the media.

What enrages me the most though is, if that you consider the references below from where I carried out my research, they have not been updated in several years. Where is the new research? The Oxford English Dictionary is updated up to five times a year just so that we can legitimately use words such as, ‘bling’, ‘mansplain’, ‘sexting’ and ‘twerk’ … OK, I know the dictionary is not the best example but there’s a profound metaphor in there, I promise.

Sexuality evolves constantly; mental health does likewise. Both sexuality and mental health are “suffering” now because of trends like ‘sexting’, for example. The news doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that the LGBTQ+ community suffer with mental illness but it’s not sufficiently nuanced. The facts are old, and the support is weak. People need education on mental health and sexuality and then on both when an LGBTQ+ person suffers with the former – and this is why this is my call out cry for help for updated research on mental health within the LGBTQ+ community.

Sorry, let me just get off my soap box. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. My bipolar allows me to experience elation on a level that most others couldn’t and my bisexuality? Doesn’t take a genius to work out I have the entire world to fall in love with when compared to others.

I recently wrote and starred in a short film called, “Treacle” which explores bi-erasure and the consequences thereof which are all too often psychological. Since its completion I’ve been overwhelmed by those who have reached out to me to share their stories, be it about their sexuality, mental health or both. I know I’m not alone, so I’ve been making it my job this year to make sure that you know you too are not alone. Hit me up on social media, my DMs are always open.

Also, please take note of these key dates:

World Bipolar Day: 30th March

BiVisibility Day: 23rd September

 

As always, I like to remind you that mental illness is crippling, exhausting, and embarrassing at times but indeed it should be considered our strength and character.

So, whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or suffer with a mental illness or both… be kind to both yourself and those who you meet. You are brave, beautiful humans who gave me a reason to get out of bed this morning – I thank you all.

*throws glitter on everything*

 

April x

 

References

 

(1) The Williams Institute, How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered? 2011; http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf


(2) JAMA Internal Medicine: https://jamanetwork.com/

(3) Merikangas KR, Peters TL, Update on the Epidemiology of Bipolar Disorder. In Yatham LN, Maj M “Bipolar Disorder Clinical and Neurobiological Foundations”, Chapter 6, page 52-61. Wiley-Blackwell UK, 2010.

(4) NHS Choices (2016). Suicide - Causes. [online] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Causes.aspx

 

(5) Bisexuality – Stonewall, 2012; https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/Bisexuality_Stonewall_Health_Briefing__2012_.pdf

 

(6) 17. ‘Erasure of Bisexuality’, GLAAD, glaad.org.

(7) Murray, C. and Lopez, A. ed., (1996). The Global Burden of Disease: A comprehensive assessment of mortality and disability from diseases, injuries, and risk factors in 1990 and projected to 2020. 1st ed. Boston: The Harvard School of Public Health.

 

(8) Current Directions in Psychological Science; https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963721414523775?journalCode=cdpa

 

(9) Nassir Ghaemi (2001). ‘Bipolar Disorder: How long does it usually take for someone to be diagnosed for bipolar disorder?’. Archived from the original on December 7, 2006. Retrieved February 20, 2007. 4 .