Associate professor receives grant for bisexual mental health study

Associate professor of nursing and health studies

Associate professor of nursing and health studies

By Margaret Maka

Wendy Bostwick, associate professor of nursing and health studies, was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the National Institutes of Health, to research the relationship between microaggressions and mental health on bisexual women.

Microaggressions are comments, slights or insults that are related to an aspect of someone’s identity and occur in daily life, Bostwick said. Microaggressions can be related to someone’s gender, race or ethnicity.

“The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between microaggressions and mental health among racially diverse bisexual women,” Bostwick said.

Bostwick has done research on the mental health of bisexual women, specifically relating to high rates of substance abuse, depression and anxiety. Bostwick said she hopes this kind of research can help identify causes of health disparities in the bisexual community.

Q: What do you think are some of the effects of microaggressions?

A: So when you look at some of the more general literature on microaggressions — which there’s not a whole bunch — but those of us who are writing on it suggest that it can have an effect on mental health, and that’s what I’m particularly interested in: is the mental health of bisexual women. Because bisexual women experience very, very high rates of mental health disorders and other mental health issues. And so I’m trying to answer the questions of why that is and trying to determine to what extent, if any, microaggressions that they experience specifically related to their bisexual identity might have some role in poor mental health outcomes.

Q: What do you hope to find out through this study?

A: One [goal] is to try to answer this big question of why we see such extreme mental health but other health disparities among bisexual populations because in order to actually solve the problem we need to understand why it’s happening so that’s a major goal. But I also want to explore sort of the diversity and the richness of what the bisexual community looks like. And you can’t do that in one study certainly but by deliberately and specifically ensuring that I am enrolling African-American women, Latino women — that it’s ethnically and racially diverse sample — I hope that we will get a much more complex or a deeper picture of what bisexuality looks like and how bisexual identity might be different for an African-American woman versus a white woman so really to sort of bring out the true diversity of who bisexual women are.

Q: Is there much research like this going on right now? Why do you think it’s important to have studies like this?

A: No, there isn’t much research going on like this, I am one of the few people across the country that [do] this research. I am also one of the first people to ever get an NIH grant to specifically look at the mental health of bisexual identified women. And I think it’s important because, as someone who has a background in public health, … I think it is the role of public health to always focus on those communities that are either the most underserved in terms of access to health and healthcare and having good health status, but also to focus on those people sort of with the most need or often experiencing the most significant health disparities. So again I would go back to the reality that bisexual populations, bisexual women in particular have very alarming rates of health disparities and health inequities in terms of mental health, in terms of physical health. And I think it’s important to address that because we want a healthy populous, and we want people to be healthy across the board. We don’t want there to be differences in terms of race or sexual orientation or geography. Ideally, we want everyone to be healthy and we want to ensure the conditions in which people can be healthy, and so that’s why this is important.