Depression and/or oppression? Bisexuality and mental health

Barker, Meg John (2015). Depression and/or oppression? Bisexuality and mental health. Journal of Bisexuality, 15(3) pp. 369–384.



The following paper is a write-up of the keynote talk which I presented at UK BiReCon in 2012, and then – in a revised form – at the first US BiReCon in 2013. My gratitude to Alex Iantaffi and Lauren Beach for enabling me to attend the latter, and to all the attendees for making me so welcome and for engaging so fully with our discussions around compassion and self-care.

Given this paper’s origins, I hope that readers will forgive the tone for being somewhat more informal and polemic than that of a standard academic article in places, as well as the tendency to draw heavily on my own work over the years as expected in a keynote talk.

Perhaps the most important, and consistent, finding in existing research on bisexuality is the fact that bisexual people are more prone to mental health problems than either heterosexual, or lesbian and gay, people. This finding has been replicated across many different countries and contexts, as readers of this journal will be well aware (e.g. Jorm et al., 2002; King & McKeown, 2003; Schrimshaw et al., 2013; Colledge et al., in prep)Therefore, in presenting a keynote talk on bisexuality it seemed appropriate – even essential – to focus on issues of mental health.

My interest in this topic is threefold: First I am an academic who is interested in both sexuality and mental health, and has written on both areas over the last decade; secondly as a therapists I work with largely LGBTQ clients; and finally as an individual I have – perhaps inevitably given the aforementioned findings – struggled with these matters on a personal level, and within the bisexual and other sexual and gender communities that I am a part of.

This paper considers bisexual mental health from both an individual, and a community, perspective. It asks how we, as individuals, generally understand mental health, and what ideas might be useful in relation to this. It also asks how the bisexual and wider LGBTQ communities that we are located in can relate to the ways in which we engage with mental health.

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