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Mental health of bisexual women focus of NIU study

September 1, 2015
Wendy Bostwick

Wendy Bostwick

An NIU professor earned a prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health to launch innovative research targeting issues affecting bisexual women’s health and well-being.

Wendy Bostwick, associate professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies (NUHS), Public Health and Health Education programs, was awarded the $371,538 grant to pursue her research into the health effects of micoraggressions on bisexual women.

Microaggressions are brief, commonplace exchanges, often unintentional, that can be demeaning or degrading to someone’s identity.

In her previous research, Bostwick learned something interesting that led her to pursue further study into microaggressions: Bisexual women did not report the high levels of discrimination often associated with health problems such as anxiety disorders and depression. However, they suffered from more physical and mental health issues than others in the LGBT population.

“Bisexual women experience a different kind of discrimination – a more subtle form that accumulates over time. It’s not one off-handed comment, it’s constantly hearing those messages not just from strangers, but from family, friends, partners, the media, the larger society,” Bostwick said.

These comments – microaggressions – aimed at bisexual women might include remarks that assume a woman is confused about her identity, statements that she should just “make up her mind,” or comments that assume all bisexual women are hypersexual or promiscuous.

For her study, Bostwick will work with 125 women from the greater Chicago area, with a specific focus on women of color who have been under-represented in this type of research. Study participants will fill out a survey each day for 28 days. Questions will include whether they experienced microaggressions that day, as well as questions about substance abuse, moods and other life factors.

NIH logo“This innovative study is well positioned to help us better understand the unique stressors that contribute to physical and mental health disparities among bisexual women,” said Tonda Hughes, professor and associate dean for Global Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and one of Bostwick’s collaborators on thus study.

The NIH recognizes the importance of Bostwick’s work as well. The NIH is among the most prestigious funders of health-related research in the world. The application process is hyper competitive with thousands of applicants. Bostwick’s project was one of a handful to receive funding.

Bostwick hopes her research will lead to better care outcomes for bisexual women.

“We can then provide information to therapists, doctors, social workers and substance abuse counselors on how to intervene to correct and prevent health disparities in the future,” Bostwick said.

Bostwick joined the NIU faculty in 2009.

She completed her master’s and Ph.D. in Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and did post-doctoral work at the University of Michigan. Her work has been funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Institute of Bisexuality, among others. Her research has been published in prominent internationally circulated journals, including the American Journal of Public Health, the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry and Archives of Sexual Behavior.