Study: People Who Come Out of the Closet Are Happier and Healthier

A 15-year-old girl came out to her parents this week, by baking them a cake. According to new research, she's now less likely to be depressed, cynical, stressed, or anxious.

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PROBLEM: For every self-possessed, confident gay teen we get to hear from, there are unhappy reminders that being out and proud can still be incredibly painful and difficult. In a risk/benefit analysis, might it be best for sexual minorities to just stay closeted?

METHODOLOGY: A small group of self-identified hetero-, homo-, and bisexual adults gathered at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress in Montreal and were evaluated for psychological well-being and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Researchers analyzed the volunteer's body fluids -- blood, saliva, and urine -- in order to measure to what degree, if any, they expressed physiological signs of chronic stress.

RESULTS: Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who were out and open about their sexuality had fewer signs of anxiety, depression, and burnout (i.e. emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of personal accomplishment), and lower cortisol levels, than those who were still closeted to friends and family.

LGB adults who were out were just as happy, healthy, and satisfied with their jobs as their straight counterparts. Out gay and bisexual men actually had lower rates of depression, and were more physically fit, than straight men.

CONCLUSION: Completely disclosing one's sexual orientation is correlated with less stress (and its various manifestations).

IMPLICATIONS: These findings establish that it's healthy to be out, but only in Canada, which happens to have a progressive attitude toward gay rights. As lead author Robert-Paul Juster pointed out, "Coming out might only be beneficial for health when there are tolerant social policies that facilitate the disclosure process." By showing how coming out is actually a matter of public health, the authors hope that their results will encourage other societies to promote tolerance and reduce stigma.

While the stress of being a sexual minority, the authors also suggest, may have made the out participants more resilient and better equipped to deal with stress, they contend that strong social support would probably contribute to this effect. So while being open about one's sexuality certainly seems advisable, people do need to make sure they feel safe. 

To keep the coming out process as positive as possible, consider saying it with cake.

The full study, "Sexual Orientation and Disclosure in Relation to Psychiatric Symptoms, Diurnal Cortisol, and Allostatic Load ," is published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine .

Presented by

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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