Sure, coming out to friends and family provides some measure of emotional relief for most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Now a new study says the benefits of disclosing your sexuality are more than just psychological. Coming out is actually good for your health.

The paper was published in the journal, Psychosomatic Medicine.

"Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate but a matter of public health," says lead author Robert-Paul Juster, of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at the University of Montreal's Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital.

His statement emphasizes the impact of emotional stress on psychological well-being as a public health issue that must be addressed.

Juster and colleagues studied 87 gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual men and women, about age 25. The researchers' goal was to determine how mental and physical health differed between homosexuals and heterosexuals and whether being "out" made any difference.

They found that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who were out had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, and burnout. By measuring psychiatric symptoms, cortisol levels and over 20 different biological markers to assess stress level, they found that gay and bisexual men had less stress than straight men. Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who were "out" had fewer psychiatric symptoms and cortisol levels than those who were not "out."

The Connection Between Stress and Disease

Prolonged elevated cortisol levels are linked to many health problems including heart disease, inflammation, and arthritis. This study indicates that self-acceptance and being open about one's sexuality provides a measure of health protection because the body experiences less stress.

But how do young homosexuals fare in families, communities, or societies where homosexuality is not accepted or worse, is persecuted? Lately, we've seen an increase of news stories about homosexual teens and young adults who were bullied, and/or experienced so much anxiety and depression because of their sexuality that it led to suicide. These news stories appear to be consistent with a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics that found homosexual teens are 5 times more likely than straight teens to attempt suicide.

Researchers sought to determine if living in an accepting social environment impacted homosexual teens' risk for suicide. They determined that when the teens lived in unsupportive social environments, they were 20 percent more likely to attempt suicide than teens in supportive environments.

What constitutes a supportive environment? That term implies a home that allows and enables it's residents to be themselves and a family that is accepting of its members' sexuality. In the study mentioned above a supportive social environment was determined by issues including the proportion of same-sex couples in communities and the presence of gay-straight alliances, nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies in schools that specifically protected lesbian, gay, and bisexual students.

To find out more about gay, lesbian and bisexual health, log on to the Centers for Disease Control's website.

Debra Warner, PsyD, reviewed this article.



Pediatrics. The Social Environment and SuicideAttempts in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth. Published online April 18, 2011PEDIATRICS Vol. 127 No. 5 May 1, 2011. pp. 896 -903 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-3020)

Centers for Disease Control

Preidt, Robert. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health. Medline Plus. 'Coming Out' Can Bring Health Benefits, Study Says. 29 January. 2013