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"Coming Out of the Closet" Improves Health in Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals

Update Date: Jan 29, 2013 11:55 AM EST

Gays, lesbians and bisexuals who come out of the closet about their sexual orientations are healthier and less stressed than those who remain in the closet, according to a new study.  Furthermore, researchers found that homosexuals who are open about their sexual orientation are often more relaxed than heterosexuals.

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

Juster and his team recruited 87 men and women.  Participants were all around the age of 25 and had different sexual orientations (gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual). Participants were asked to answer psychological questionnaires as well as provide blood, saliva and urine samples, which researchers used to measure their level of stress.

After comparing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in participants, researchers found that gays, lesbians and bisexuals who were open about their sexual orientation to family and friends had lower levels of cortisol as well as fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression and burnout than those who were still in the closet.

The study also revealed that gay and bisexual men had lower depressive symptoms and "allostatic load levels" compared to their heterosexual or straight counterparts.

Researchers explained that when a person suffers chronic stress, cotisol contributes to the "wear and tear" on a variety of that person's body systems, and taken together this strain caused by stress is called allostatic load, according to the study.

"Our goals were to determine if the mental and physical health of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals differs from heterosexuals and, if so, whether being out of the closet makes a difference," Juster said.

 We used measures of psychiatric symptoms, cortisol levels throughout the day, and a battery of over 20 biological markers to assess allostatic load," he explained.

Researchers say that the latest findings, published Jan. 29 in Psychosomatic Medicine, could help support gay rights advocates.  

Juster and his team believe that the study underlined the positive effect of self-acceptance and being open about sexual orientation can have on the health and well-being of lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

However, Juster noted that "coming out" might only be beneficial for health in open and tolerant societies.

"Societal intolerance during the disclosure process impairs one's self-acceptance that generates increased distress and contributes to mental and physical health problems," he explained.

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