Bisexuality and Mental Health Among Young Adults During COVID-19
Studying sexual orientation and gender identity expression can provide a fresh look at health trends. We can use this focus to look at trends for sexual minority college students and their risk for depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. This can show us more about this community, which is generally subjected to feelings of isolation and rejection, and how these feelings magnified this last year.
If we focus down even further, the struggles of bisexual students call for attention. Bisexual students face a unique set of challenges. But why is that and what are these struggles? Research often groups the LGBTQ+ community together in terms of examining health disparities. Heterosexism is an issue for the entire LGBTQ+ community but bisexual people often experience mental health more profoundly.
If we just look at the “B” what trends do we see? First, we see research that points to bisexuality as a “silenced sexuality”. It also appears that many people that identify as bisexual do not tend to report their mental health concerns. Recent social literature has started discussing other complexities as well. Married bisexual people often face a social stigma of picking a side which ignores the complexities of their sexuality. Bisexual couples are often labeled as heterosexual, or gay or lesbian if they are in a monogamous committed relationship. College aged people likely won’t experience this pressure in terms of marriage expectations but it can certainly impact dating and sense of belonging.
We often see social pressures to fit into neat little binary boxes - male or female, heterosexual or gay, but being both heterosexual AND gay isn’t allowed. In reality, this community often has one foot in the LGBTQ+ community and the other in the heterosexual world. For college students, college is often a time of self discovery and acceptance. Feelings of belonging are strong indicators of stable mental health. Imagine the confusion and complicated emotions that would come into play experiencing new sexual feelings and relationships while not fully finding a place where you fit. The need for more research around college students that identify as bisexual is strong. We need to determine how best to support this community during a transformative time in their lives.
In our study, we examined the distribution of the mental health burden among bisexual young adults. We used a survey to look at responses from 358 students at San José State University. Among other things, we wanted to know how sexuality impacted mental health. Using this information and research, the results indicated that, in racially diverse participants aged 18 - 35, 6.9% identified as bisexual. Depression and anxiety were common (30.8% and 39.7%, respectively), with 17.0% reporting suicidal thoughts and 13.4% feeling lonely nearly every day. The prevalence of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation was higher for bisexual participants compared to heterosexual or gay or lesbian participants. The mental health needs of the bisexual community are significant and separate from gay or lesbian young adults. There is a strong need for reflection on social connectedness for bisexual young adults especially during times of extended stress and isolation.
Melissa McClure Fuller
Master of Public Health student graduating in August 2021.
The COVID-19 brought significant changes and challenges in terms of our (mental) wellness. Read our posts to learn more about how we explored mental wellness during this unprecedented time.