Gay people may be more likely to experience difficulties with their mental health. This is mainly the result of the stigma and discrimination they face. Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) may increase the chance of developing bipolar disorder.

Some research suggests that being attracted to people of the same gender may mean having a higher chance of developing bipolar disorder than the general public.

In addition to the oppression that gay people face that contributes toward worsening mental health, heterosexism may also present a barrier to accessing suitable treatment.

This article will discuss the association between being gay and having bipolar disorder and suggest where people may be able to find support.

A person who may identify as gay with bipolar disorder.Share on Pinterest
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Bipolar disorder refers to a group of conditions that cause unusual shifts in a person’s:

  • mood
  • energy levels
  • activity levels
  • concentration
  • ability to carry out day-to-day tasks

During depressive episodes, a person may feel sad, worthless, hopeless, guilty, or alone. They may also experience physical complaints, struggle to concentrate, and feel unable to work or go to school.

During a manic episode, a person may feel very energetic. Some people become very happy and sociable or make impulsive decisions such as spending a lot of money. Others may become aggressive or combative.

Some people with bipolar disorder may also experience psychosis. This can cause them to become disconnected from reality, and they may have false beliefs or see or hear things that are not really there.

Different types of bipolar disorder may mean that either the mania or the depression is less severe. However, the hallmark of bipolar disorder is not the severity of either state but the cycling of moods. Manic or depressive periods may last days or weeks.

Researchers do not fully understand why some people develop bipolar disorder, let alone why it is more prevalent among gay people.

Some studies suggest that genetic and early developmental factors, such as an infection in the birthing parent during pregnancy or exposure to certain drugs or illnesses, may play a role.

Research also suggests that certain environmental factors, such as emotional abuse, can play a role in the development of bipolar disorder.

Gay people may be more likely to experience the following environmental risk factors:

  • Trauma: These challenges could include bullying, discrimination, or family rejection.
  • Other mental health issues: A history of anxiety or depression, both of which are more common among gay people, may correlate with a higher chance of developing bipolar disorder.
  • Physical health issues: Certain physical health issues, such as asthma, may increase the chance of developing bipolar disorder. Research also suggests that gay people may have difficulty accessing healthcare, which could cause worsening health outcomes.

Most research into sexual orientation and mental health has not looked specifically at being gay and having bipolar disorder. Instead, researchers often group several different sexualities together, then look broadly at the frequency of mental health diagnoses overall, rather than just bipolar disorder.

Research suggests that mental health conditions such as depression are more prevalent among people in LGBTQIA+ communities. For example, one 2017 report notes that LGBT communities face a higher rate of mood disorders such as bipolar disorder.

The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health suggests high rates of mental health issues among LGBTQ youth. It notes that 46% of respondents wanted mental health counseling but could not access it and that 40% of people seriously considered suicide during the previous year.

A small number of studies have looked exclusively at bipolar disorder. For example, one 2018 study indicates that same-sex sexual behavior may be more common among adult women with bipolar disorder. This may suggest that bipolar disorder may be more prevalent among LGB individuals.

However, not all studies suggest a link between bipolar disorder and sexual orientation. One 2016 study suggests that same-sex sexual behavior occurred at similar rates between people with and without a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Although research does suggest that mental health conditions may be more prevalent in LGBTQIA+ communities, currently, there is not much evidence to suggest that bipolar disorder itself is more common among gay people.

Gay people who live with bipolar disorder may find relief from a combination of medications, therapy, and social support.

When looking for a mental health professional, people may want to consider:

  • What they are looking for: For example, a person may wish to consider whether or not they would prefer a professional who is also gay or who has an understanding of common LGBTQIA+ issues.
  • Referrals: People may wish to ask trusted friends or loved ones for a referral. People may also find positive reviews using directory searches, community centers, or health centers.
  • Calling ahead: Some people may wish to call ahead of an appointment to check whether or not the professional has previous experience with LGBTQIA+ clients.
  • Asking questions: People can ask questions to ensure that the mental health professional is LGBTQIA+ competent and that their views align.
  • Building a relationship: Although it may take time, it is important to build a relationship with the professional to ensure that they can truly help.

Some other options for getting support may include:

  • joining a local advocacy organization, which can connect a person to more resources, help them form meaningful friendships, and reduce isolation
  • contacting a school counseling center, as many such centers offer free or low cost services, as well as education for gay students
  • talking with a doctor about the symptoms of bipolar disorder
  • joining a local support group for gay people

Having a mental health diagnosis is a risk factor for thinking about and attempting suicide.

One 2019 review notes that the rate of suicide among people with bipolar disorder is 10–30 times higher than that of the general public and that 20–60% of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once in their lifetime.

Research also suggests that the prevalence of seriously considering or attempting suicide is higher among LGB people.

It is important to take any mention of suicide seriously and to listen attentively and compassionately to anyone who is expressing difficulty.

National hotlines can provide free, confidential assistance from trained professionals. These hotlines are available 24 hours per day and may benefit anyone who is experiencing difficulty with their mental health or wanting or needing to talk about their feelings.

If anyone believes that a person is at risk of suicide, they should call 911 or a local emergency number immediately. People should try to provide as much accurate information as the emergency services require.

Gay people are more likely to experience difficulty with their mental health. This may mean that they have a higher chance of experiencing mood disorders such as bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder can be a challenging diagnosis, especially for gay people who may struggle to access care due to stigma and discrimination. Receiving proper care can greatly improve quality of life and help a person live better with bipolar disorder.