Coming out of the closet may protect against mental and physical stress in people who are gay, a new study from Canada finds.
In the study, lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals who had come "out" to family had friends had fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, and emotional exhaustion (called burnout), than those who had not disclosed their sexual orientation.
In addition, LGBs who had disclosed their sexual orientation had lower levels of cortisol — a stress hormone — in the morning, than individuals who were still in the closet
Previous studies have suggested that LGB individuals are more likely to report depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and substance abuse. LGBs may experience chronic stress from discrimination as well as internal stress from hiding their sexual orientation, the researchers said.
Although the physiological effects of lower levels of morning cortisol are not entirely understood, some research has suggested higher levels are found in people of low socioeconomic status, another group that experiences increased stress.
"'Coming out of the closet' to family and friends is an important life transition that may promote protection against stress-related symptoms," and diseases, the researchers said.
However, any benefits associated with coming out in a particular place may depend upon the community's attitudes and social policies towards sexual minorities there, the researchers say.
"Coming out might only be beneficial for health when there are tolerant social policies that facilitate the disclosure process," Juster said. In Canada, same sex marriage is legal nationwide. [See Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage Improves Gay Men's Health.]
"Internationally, societies must endeavor to facilitate self-acceptance among LGBs by promoting tolerance, progressing policy, and dispelling stigma, because this may no longer be a matter of popular debate, but of public health," the researchers said.
The study involved 87 healthy people (their average age was 25). About half were lesbian, gay or bisexual and half were heterosexual. Among LGBs, about 70 percent had "come out" to friends and family.
The results are published today (Jan. 29) in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Pass it on: Coming out may have mental and physical health benefits for gay people.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.