Black & Bisexual: The Unheard Voices of Bisexual Youth

Everyday someone experiences sadness and many deal with depression. As a psychologist and researcher who studies help-seeking attitudes and access to care, these issues are highly important. It should not take situational events to emphasize the importance that being mentally healthy plays on our daily lives. Often it’s not until celebrities have something major happen or if someone with mental illness is implicated in a violent or dangerous scenario that mental illness is in the news.

Recently, I attended the annual convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in Washington, D.C. I attended some conference sessions that were interesting but also disheartening. Particularly when it comes to young Black bisexual males. As a child psychologist, I encounter children and parents from diverse backgrounds who are seeking help to address concerns with school problems, anxiety, depression, or daily life stress. In the past few years I have worked with a number of families who have children who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB).  Some of the major issues that brought them into therapy were depression, suicidal behaviors, and coping with acceptance.

During one session on minority stress and sexual orientation, Patrick A. Wilson, Ph.D. (of Columbia University) stated that there is a high rate of mental health problems and risky health behaviors among gay and bisexual black males.  Dr. Wilson discussed his research on “Profiles of Resilience and Psychosocial Outcomes Among Young Black Gay and Bisexual Men”. In his study, he reported that to help these young men be more resilient several factors are important such as increasing self-efficacy, increasing parental support, and more supportive peer relationships. Often when we discuss sexual minorities, especially black gay and bisexual males, we focus on stereotypes and risky sexual behaviors (e.g., HIV).  The current research presented by Wilson and his colleagues took a different approach to discuss resilience.

My co-author (David Goode-Cross, Ph.D. of University of Baltimore) and I wrote about strategies for parents to help deal with their teen coming out.  Numerous studies have emphasized how having a supportive, accepting family is beneficial to prevent mental health difficulties (i.e., depression, suicidal thoughts).  We discussed that

“Parental rejection can exacerbate depression among LGB youth and is a significant risk factor for suicide and risky sexual behavior among this population… Parents may wish to seek therapeutic support”.

Family is extremely important to many. For Black bisexual youth, one factor that occasionally makes it more difficult to come-out is fear of being rejected by those closest to them. In a study by Pollitt, Li, Grossman, and Russell (of the University of Arizona) that was presented at the APA convention titled Coming Out Stress of Bisexual Adolescents, the lead presenter, Amanda Pollitt, M.S., reported that coming out is most stressful for bisexual males. The findings noted that bisexual males have more stress than other LGB individuals in terms of coming out to family, friends, and at school. Ms. Pollitt concluded that bisexual males experience high stress and are likely to not be out (to avoid having to explain what it means to be bi). So why is all of this important? The fact of the matter is that African American gay and bisexual youth suffer significantly more stress related to coming out as a result of intersecting identities. This stress could potentially increase the likelihood of depression and treating an illness that could be decreased if family members were more supportive.



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