Mental health treatment experiences of self-identified bisexual women and bisexual men

Emily Hughes Page (2002)

The first detailed survey of bisexual women's and men's mental health treatment experiences was completed by 222 respondents who self-identified as bisexual or were questioning their sexual orientation. Similar to prior studies of lesbian, gay, and bisexual [LGB] clients and studies of bisexual identity formation, the sample was mainly European-American, educated, and middle class, and contained more women than men. Mean age (27 yr.) was about 5 years younger than prior bisexual identity samples. Distinctions in diagnostic severity have been unavailable previously in studies of LGB mental health consumers. Respondents' most emphasized theme (validation of bisexuality as legitimate and non-pathological) matches accounts of bisexuals' experiences, as well as clinical theory about bisexual affirmative treatment. It differs in emphasis from roughly comparable studies of lesbian and gay clients in which general clinical skills were emphasized more than validation of sexual identity. Another theme emphasized by these respondents, proactive intervention, is discussed in the LGB clinical literature. As in studies of LGB consumers, these bisexual clients saw mental health treatment as potentially helpful for bisexual issues and rated their courses of treatment as improving over time. However, they rated helpfulness lower than their gay and lesbian counterparts. Bisexual men experienced more stress connected to bisexuality, and prioritized bisexual issues higher in treatment goals than did women; which may stem from the fact that society expects men to adhere more closely to heterosexual norms and that female respondents' mental health issues tended to be more severe in general. Those of solely European-American ethnicity came out as bisexual earlier in relationship to commencement of treatment. This supports prior findings that some non-European ethnicities tend to place less value on both mental health services and LGB identities. Residents of more populated areas experienced more bisexuality-connected stress, which cannot be explained by prior findings. Those with more severe treatment issues rated bisexual issues lower in their treatment goals and experienced less acceptance of their bisexuality from clinicians. They also wrote in more examples of clinicians inaccurately confounding bisexuality with clinical phenomenology and of attempted conversions to heterosexuality. These findings support anecdotal accounts in the literature.