Bisexual men often hide their sexual orientation more often than gay men, according to research. They also tend to have poorer mental health. Is there a connection between the two?
It appears so. A recent study looked at whether concealing their sexual orientation from others was linked to worse mental health symptoms. The researchers found that bisexual men are, in fact, more likely to be anxious or depressed if they conceal their behavior with other men.
However, men hiding their lifestyle were less likely to have poor mental health if they had strong emotional support from others.
The study, led by Eric W. Schrimshaw, PhD, an assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, aimed to better understand what factors might contribute to lower levels of mental health among bisexual men.
The researchers gave questionnaires to 203 bisexual men in New York City who do not identify as gay and have not told their female partners that they are also sexually involved with other men.
The questionnaires assessed the men's mental health and the extent to which they conceal their same-sex behavior from others.
Over a third of the men — 38 percent of them — said they had not told anyone they have sex with other men, and 41 percent said they had told a best friend or a parent.
A total of 63 percent said they would lie about having sex with men if they were directly asked about it, and 51 percent said they were too embarrassed to tell others they have sex with men.
Just over half the men (52 percent) said they agreed with the statement "If I shared with my friends that I have sex with men, they would like me less."
The researchers then compared the men's mental health scores to their levels of concealment of their same-sex behavior. They found that the more the men concealed their same-sex behavior from others in their lives, the poorer the men's mental health was in terms of their symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.
In addition, those who had a negative attitude about their own behavior of having sex with other men also had even poorer mental health than those who had not internalized a homophobic attitude.
However, those who had more emotional support from others in general had better mental health than those who didn't, even if they did not tell others about their lifestyle.
Interestingly, those who had told a friend or family member about their sex life with other men did not necessarily have better mental health. Social support — regardless of disclosing their lifestyle — was more important to improvements in the men's mental health than any other factors studied.
Those men who were most likely to conceal their behavior were those who had higher incomes (over $30,000 a year), who were living with a wife or girlfriend, who identified themselves as "heterosexual," who had more frequent sex with women and who had less frequent sex with men.
The study was published January 2 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.