New research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health indicates that the practices of health providers play an important role in shaping bisexual people’s experiences of mental health services and may pose barriers to care. The study, published recently in the Community Mental Health Journal, builds on existing evidence that bisexual people often experience poor mental health related to their marginalized sexual identities, including high rates of psychological distress, anxiety, depression, suicidality, alcohol misuse, and self-harming behaviour. As there is little research in the area of bisexual mental health, this study makes a significant contribution to the field.
The community-based study consisted of eight focus groups and nine interviews with 55 bisexual participants from across Ontario. The purpose was to assess their experiences of mental health services and care. Study findings reveal both positive and negative experiences. Negative experiences were often attributed to certain practices on the part of providers: expressing judgement about bisexuality; dismissing bisexuality; pathologizing bisexuality; and asking intrusive or excessive questions but not addressing non-sexual issues of importance to the client. Positive experiences were linked to providers’ efforts to learn more about bisexuality to inform their practice; the asking of open-ended and clarifying questions; and the expression of positive or neutral reactions to disclosure of sexual identity.
In conclusion, the researchers suggest that promising practices that have been developed for working with lesbian and gay clients in a mental health context can be extended for use with the larger LGBT communities: 1) having knowledge of LGBT communities and resources that may be helpful for the client; 2) not making an issue when sexual identity is disclosed; 3) supporting clients to feel positive about their sexual identity. Also important are changes to promote inclusiveness of all sexualities across the organization (e.g., intake forms, client interviews, etc.).
See “Bisexual People’s Experiences with Mental Health Services: A Qualitative Investigation,” Community Mental Health Journal, July 3, 2010, at www.springerlink.com.
For more information on building an inclusive organizational environment, see the Rainbow Health Educational Toolkit, May 2009, at www.rainbowhealthnetwork.ca.