Most gay and lesbian people are not completely transparent about their sexuality in every setting in their lives. New research reveals that admitting sexual orientation may increase mental well-being if met with support. Because coming out can decrease a person’s chance of becoming angry, depressed and isolated, the findings emphasize the importance of tolerance in work and social settings. Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, and co-author of the study, said, “In general, research shows that coming out is a good thing. 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.” Ryan adds that previous research has shown that those who remain closeted are more likely to experience romantic conflicts, stress and suicidal ideation.
The study involved 161 non-heterosexual participants and their responses to various questions regarding interactions with different groups of people, including family members, colleagues and religious communities. The study showed that “environment plays a huge role in determining when coming out actually makes you happier,” says doctoral student Nicole Legate, who led the study with Ryan and Netta Weinstein from the University of Essex in England. The researchers found that when someone comes out to their accepting peers, they experience the highest level of psychological benefits. But Legate adds, if someone reveals their sexual orientation in a critical environment, “those who come out may actually feel no better than those who conceal.”
The researchers also noticed that age was not a factor in happiness when someone comes out of the closet, and the responses were similar between all respondents aged 18 to 65. The most significant factor that determined the relative happiness of someone choosing to reveal their orientation was decidedly the supportiveness and acceptance of the environment. “The vast majority of gay people are not out in every setting,” adds Ryan. “People are reading their environment and determining whether it is safe or not.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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