Gay and Bisexual Men’s Mental Health-Related Help-Seeking
: Affect and Norms Online

  • Willem J. Stander

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Amidst limited information about gay and bisexual men’s mental health help-seeking, this thesis concentrates on their experiences seeking help online. International evidence suggests that gay and bisexual men have disproportionately high rates of mental health problems and poorer healthcare experiences. As early adopters and pervasive users of digital and social media technologies, online interventions have particular potential to address the mental health challenges faced by this group. However, few studies have specifically examined their help-seeking experiences with much of the extant research limited by a narrow, rational choice conceptualisation of help-seeking which emphasises service engagement patterns. This thesis contributes to the literature by providing a dynamic understanding of gay and bisexual men’s online help-seeking relations that is considerate of help-seeking as a relational, subjective and ongoing process.

Utilising a multi-method qualitative approach combining both conventional and online research methods, this Brighton/UK-based study draws on the experiences and perspectives of 18 participants (aged 23 – 58; mean age 37). Participants included 9 gay and bisexual men with lived experiences of mental health difficulties and online help-seeking, and 9 community-based LGBTQ digital outreach and support workers. A thematic analysis using drawing on interdisciplinary theory and paying specific attention to the normative and emotional dimensions of helpseeking was used to identify key themes.

The findings indicate that emotions, norms, and relational dilemmas are key to understanding gay and bisexual men’s preferences for online helpseeking. I argue that gay and bisexual men’s help seeking involves emotions such as shame and feelings of failure which arise from the navigation of multiple sociocultural norms. Struggling against all of these norms means there is the possibility of failure and social disapproval on many levels and this restricts the type of help-seeking possible, with online supports being one of the few available options. Online helpseeking, I argue, provides gay and bisexual men with some relief from these difficulties through a variety of help-seeking strategies which generate a sense of social and emotional connectedness.

Finally, I address the possibilities and challenges of digital and social media to help generate and support outreach work with gay and bisexual men in the context of peer-led mental health services. Altogether, these insights demonstrate the importance of relationally oriented and peer focused online interventions for gay and bisexual men in a mental health capacity. Recommendations for practice, policy, and corporate social media platforms actively targeting this group are provided.
Date of AwardApr 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorOlu Jenzen (Supervisor), Katherine Johnson (Supervisor) & Kath Browne (Supervisor)


  • Mental health
  • help-seeking
  • gay and bisexual men
  • online
  • emotion
  • norms

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