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Pioneering a measure of experiences shaping bisexual women’s mental health


By Margaret Robinson, PhD. Affiliate Scientist in the Social and Epidemiological research department of the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health.

Across Canada and the United States, bisexual women like me consistently report significant mental health disparities such as higher incidences of mood and anxiety disorders, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm compared to our straight and lesbian peers. What we don’t yet understand is why this is the case.

As health researchers, we know that how people treat us can have a big impact on our mental health. Microaggressions are commonplace experiences of prejudice such as slights, insults, or stereotypes. This form of discrimination was first identified in research on racialized groups, and since extended to members of marginalized groups in general. Research conducted by my colleague, Dr. Corey Flanders found that these negative daily experiences were associated with an increase in stress and anxiety for bisexual people.

On the flip side, Dr. Flanders found that instances of support and affirmation, called microaffirmations, had an even stronger link to anxiety and depression, and were associated with a decrease in daily stress and anxiety. Her work suggests that microaggression and microaffirmation may play significant roles in the mental health of bisexuals. However, research on this topic has been slowed because we don’t have a reliable way to measure the microaggressions or microaffirmations that bisexual women experience. That’s about to change.

Thanks to funding from Women’s College Hospital’s Women’s Xchange program, Dr. Flanders, Marianne LeBreton and I will develop ways to measure the positive and negative experiences of bisexual women. With the help of an advisory committee of eight bisexual women, our research team will conduct focus groups to identify positive and negative experiences frequently encountered by bisexual women. Using this data we will develop a measure for assessing microaggressions and microaffirmations, and then validate the measure statistically with an online study.

As Dr. Flanders explains, creating these new scales is “an important step in generating a more accurate picture of how these day-to-day lived experiences impact the overall health of bisexual women.”

As researchers with Dr. Lori Ross’ Re:searching for LGBTQ Health team, we have a mandate to understand how lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) people experience physical and mental health, and access health services. Being able to measure the positive and negative experiences of bisexual women will enable us and other researchers in our field to identify paths to better mental health for bisexual people.

The resulting scales will be published and a video describing the project will be available on the Women’s Xchange website when the project is complete.

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