It’s an alarming fact: Bisexual individuals have the worst mental health within the LGBTQ+ community. It has been reported that 40% of bisexual people have, at some point in their life, considered or attempted suicide. Furthermore, bisexual people tend to suffer from anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse at double the rate of non-bi identifying members within the queer community. If case studies have shown time and time again that bisexual members of the LGBTQ+ community are suffering from mental health issues at such high rates, what then seems to be the underlying cause?
We chatted with Nicole Pacent about her beliefs and personal experiences with mental health and being a bisexual woman. Pacent, best known for her role as Aster Gaston on the YouTube hit series Anyone But Me, is a mental health advocate who dedicates time volunteering at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and hosts a YouTube channel of her own, that emphasizes bisexuality and mental health topics.
Pacent argued that bi-erasure and biphobia, especially within the media, plays a huge role in the mental health epidemic within her community.
“If you feel erased, if there are no examples of what you are… if you look to the television and don’t see anyone like you, except maybe when they’re villianized, you immediately think “What’s wrong with me? Something is wrong with me. Obviously I’m wrong,” Pacent explained.
Though LGBTQ+ representation has been increasing within mainstream media, the number of bisexual characters in TV and film has continued to be one of the least represented.
“Growing up, we look to our parents, our grandparents for examples on how to lead lives, how to have relationships and families. And if you’re bisexual, you don’t see what that looks like. You start to wonder if you can ever have a family, or get married, or have a functioning relationship,” Pacent continued. The need for representation in the media for bisexual individuals is incredibly important for this very reason.
“…You immediately think “What’s wrong with me? Something is wrong with me. Obviously I’m wrong.”
Often times bisexual characters are introduced with a quick mention of their sexuality, only to be quickly placed in a hetero-normative relationship with another character. It is also not uncommon for the “bisexual” label to become lost in the dialogue of a character’s arc when they begin a relationship with another character of the same gender. There is an important difference between being bisexual and being homosexual, yet this is blurred too often in mainstream media. Pacent explained that the importance of asking questions to bisexual individuals like herself about what it is like to be able to love a man and to love a woman are important topics that need to be discussed, that will ultimately help prevent these blurred lines. However, she recognizes that to many, bisexuality tends to become synonymous with polyamory (non-monogamy).
“People in society tend to trick themselves into believing that once you’re married, you’ll never be attracted to another person and that being attracted to another person [that is not your spouse] is wrong,” said Pacent. “But I think that when you’re straight and you’re with someone of the opposite sex, or you’re gay and with someone of the same sex, you can, to some extent, feel like you’re providing [your partner] with what they need. You think, ‘they’re only attracted to my gender, so I am providing them with what they need. Therefore, I’m enough.’ But bisexuality calls this idea of singular attraction starkly into question.” Pacent continued by explaining that how you choose to act on your attraction to other people is the difference between bisexuality and polyamory. Bisexual individuals are fully capable of having monogamous relationships, if they choose, just as any straight or gay person may also be polyamorous. A person’s sexuality is not the same as how they choose to have relationships.
This stigma of possible infidelity due to a person’s bisexual orientation can directly impact an individual’s mental health. Pacent acknowledged this in past relationships of her own. “It’s the fear of losing your partner. I cannot tell you how many times in relationships I’ve been terrified to even express how I feel, even to myself, so I just think ‘I’m not going to acknowledge this.’ And this causes huge problems. Then people aren’t honest with how they’re feeling and they get wildly depressed, which it leads to bad things.” Gleefully, Pacent explained that her current relationship is in no way like previous ones, which was in part why she chose to marry her husband. On her YouTube channel, Pacent addresses another bi-erasure issue that often gets brought up to bisexual women who marry men: marrying a man doesn’t mean she’s straight now. (Below).
So what does Nicole Pacent do to maintain her own mental health?
“When it comes to relationships, if I start to get to that place of fear where I am worried that I may lose this person and I feel a wall going up… then I know that’s when I need to have a conversation about how I’m feeling, that I’m scared to have but it’s worth having.” Pacent also explains that therapy and community groups, likes the one she went to after the loss of her sister in 2015, are both incredibly good resources for those trying to work on their mental health. Working out is also a great stress relief for Pacent, so much so that Nicole was returning home from a hike before our interview.
“It’s also really important to know yourself. I’m an extrovert and if I spend too much time alone, I get inside my head. I like time to myself, but I know I need less of that than I do community,” she added.
The importance of LGBTQ+ representation in the media is an ever increasing discussion within the queer community. But for the bisexual community, specifically, the lack of representation is an immensely important change needed to help decrease the terrible mental health difficulties facing them.
Thankfully the queer community is starting to see a change. The bisexual representation increase in mainstream media in the last year, known as the “Bi-Boom,” is a positive sign of what is to come. Actress Stephanie Beatriz’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine character, Rosa Diaz, came out as queer this last season proudly and nonchalantly, proclaiming “I’m bisexual.” This simple phrase was widely celebrated by the bisexual community because of the impact of visibility so desperately needed. As LGBTQ+ representation continues to increase in television and film, it is important that the lesser represented identities, like bisexuality, continues to increase as well and not be forgotten. Hopefully then we will see the mental health of this community better for all within it.