ScienceDaily (June 20, 2011) — Coming out as lesbian, gay, or bisexual increases emotional well-being even more than earlier research has indicated. But the psychological benefits of revealing one’s sexual identity — less anger, less depression, and higher self-esteem — are limited to supportive settings, shows a study published June 20 in Social Psychology and Personality Science.
The findings underscore the importance of creating workplaces and other social settings that are accepting of all people, but especially gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals, says coauthor Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.
"In general, research shows that coming out is a good thing," says Ryan. "Decades of studies have found that openness allows gay people to develop an authentic sense of themselves and to cultivate a positive minority sexual identity." By contrast, research has confirmed that being closeted poses serious psychological risks, including more troubled romantic relationships, more distress, and even increased suicidal tendencies, adds Ryan.
Despite the costs of staying in the closet and the benefits of coming out, earlier studies uncovered only slightly improved mental health from revealing a minority sexual identity. The problem, says Ryan, was that these studies lumped everyone together — people who came out in supportive settings as well as those who faced stigma and discrimination.
By teasing out the effects of different contexts, this study shows that "environment plays a huge role in determining when coming out actually makes you happier," says Nicole Legate, a doctoral student at the University of Rochester, who led the study with Ryan and Netta Weinstein from the University of Essex in England. Among accepting groups, individuals experience significant psychological payback from being open about their sexual identity. But among hostile groups, the costs and stigma of identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual cancel out these benefits.
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