Out Of Mind: Let’s Talk About Bi Women And Mental Health…

worried-girl-413690_1920Another day, another grim story about budget cuts. In the last four years, benefit sanctions against people with mental illnesses have increased six hundred times. Nearly 20,000 people have had their disability benefits stopped, sometimes for weeks at a time, in an attempt to force compliance with schemes such as Welfare to Work which tries to help people back into employment. But as the charity Mind has pointed out, forcing people into financial difficulties is not exactly conducive to good mental health.

This counter-intuitive approach to recovery and work is hardly an anomaly. Mental health services in the UK are in crisis. Budgets are plummeting, and care professionals are increasingly depending upon unproven services to make severe cuts. Short term financial problems are compounding a longer standing issue – the fact that mental health has so often been the poor relative of physical health when it comes to treatment and wider acceptance. Mental illnesses are widely misunderstood, stigmatised and mocked.

You know what else is widely misunderstood, stigmatised and mocked? Bisexuality. Maybe this is why it feels grimly predictable to read studies which show that bisexual women are far more likely to experience poor mental health than their straight and lesbian peers.

It is difficult to prove why these higher rates should be the case, but some theories have been suggested. The same study showed that bisexual women are less likely to be out than gay men or lesbians, and it doesn’t take a medical qualification to understand how hiding one’s sexuality can have a huge impact on mental health. Similarly, the oft reported feelings of not fitting in in either straight or gay spaces can lead to alienation and harm for bi folk.

cloud-705728_1920On the other hand, it seems simplistic to try to attribute mental health problems to just sexuality. Genetics, upbringing, trauma, relationships (sexual or otherwise), work, the time of year – all of these factors can and do affect mental health positively and negatively, and can be completely separate from sexuality. If you’ll forgive me this brief diversion into proof by anecdote, I know that my own mental health takes the biggest hits when my career situation is bad. I agonise and beat myself up about a lack of career success, and this hurts me far more than any sexuality angst ever has.

So what do we do when a certain population faces medical problems at a much higher rate than those around them? An optimist would call for more tailored mental health services, more training for medical staff on the specific challenges faced by bisexuals, more outreach campaigns. But in the current financial climate, I’m not particularly inclined towards optimism.

What I know has helped me, completely separately from state funded healthcare, is a little bit of “crazy person solidarity”. So Biscuiteers, if you need it – let’s have a chat. Let’s ignore the traditions of the internet and make the comment section a helpful place for once.

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Samantha Neville-Jones

Samantha is a twenty-something teacher and aspiring writer. She lives in south London with a boy and two pet gerbils, and loves obscure sitcoms, serious debates on silly topics, and jammy dodgers.

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