Coming out of the closet is as much about your well-being as it is your stance in the LBGTQ community.
For many LGBTQ individuals, coming out of the closet is a liberating and empowering act. As actor and activist Ian McKellen recently tweeted, “I’ve never met a gay person who regretted coming out – including myself. Life at last begins to make sense, when you are open and honest.”
Now, science says that coming out of the closet is actually good for your mental and physical health. A recent study shows that coming out of the closet can make a person less stressed, resulting in a happier and healthier life. The research also highlights the importance of community for LGBTQ people. Coming out and celebrating your queer identity is all the more rewarding when you feel secure and have a safe space to do so. In that sense, communities that “come out” as supportive of LGBTQ people can also be an important wellness factor – one that is as influential as coming out itself.
The Study: Does Coming Out Lower Your Stress Levels?
Researchers at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital in Montreal wanted to know if lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals have different levels of mental and physical health than straight men or women (transgender individuals were not included in their research). If these levels vary, researchers wanted to know if coming out of the closet makes a difference in overall health. Do LGB individuals who are out show fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression and burnout?
The researchers ran a study to find out. They gathered 87 men and women, all around the age of 25, and used various tools to measure the stress hormone cortisol. Chronic strain on this hormone – i.e., constantly living in stressful circumstances or lifestyles – will wear on the body and its systems. This strain is called the “allostatic load.” By gauging psychiatric symptoms, cortisol levels throughout the day, and other biological markers, researchers were able to determine the participant’s allostatic load and its effect on their overall physical and mental health.
The Results: Gay Men are Happier and Coming Out Makes a Difference
Lead author Robert-Paul Juster shared that the study had some surprising results. “Contrary to our expectations, gay and bisexual men had lower depressive symptoms and allostatic load levels than heterosexual men,” he said. While these results are newsworthy in and of themselves, Juster did not elaborate on them. He continued: “Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals who were out to family and friends had lower levels of psychiatric symptoms and lower morning cortisol levels than those who were still in the closet.” In other words, people who were out exhibited better levels of health than people who were in the closet. Because they didn’t have the stress of keeping their sexual identities secret, their bodies and minds were more healthy overall.
In that sense, saying it loud and saying it proud is genuinely important to a queer person’s happiness. Because the mind and body are connected, coming out allows you to live a more harmonious, integrated life. Sharing who you are with others is a crucial step that takes courage, but it is also a cornerstone for well being. It’s a simple formula, but one that is just as empowering as Ian Mckellen, and many others, say it is.
The Importance of Community and Societal Awareness on Coming Out
While coming it is important, how people receive that information can factor into how comfortable you are sharing it. The researchers pointed out that yes, openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual people could handle stress well. But this ability, they said, likely came from a lifetime of handling the stigma-related stress of being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. In other words, being LGB caused them to develop coping mechanisms that made them better at handling stress than most people.
This information points to an important truth about coming out of the closet. Being comfortable enough in your own skin to share who you are is good for your health and happiness. But a supportive, accepting community will make that announcement easier, and receiving coming out advice from those who have already taken the plunge can make a huge difference. Telling your story to receptive, caring people can make coming out a rewarding experience and make it easier to embrace yourself and your identity every day.
In that sense, in order for LGBTQ people to be happy and healthy, it’s equally important that communities learn how to be supportive. The study’s researchers agreed with this truth. Juster said, “Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate but a matter of public health.” If society wants its citizens to be well, they must be accepting so that people can openly be themselves. Offering this support can, in turn, create healthier communities with happier, more integrated citizens.
Finding a Safe Space to Come Out
If you’re LGBTQ, and want to find a safe and supportive way to come out, Lighthouse is proud to offer a plethora of helpful resources. Use our search engine to connect with a therapist or doctor who understands your specific needs and can help you come out of the closet. Or, you can always visit our blog to read up on everything queer health related. As always, feel free to reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to be matched up with a professional by a member of our team.
Remember: coming out empowers not just you, but the people who surround you. Living your truth will always enable others to do the same. And with the support of professionals to help you, the positive impact it will have on your life, and the world around you, is truly worth it.