Canadian researchers have found that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (LGBs) who are out to others have lower stress hormone levels and fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, and burnout than those still in the closet.

Surprisingly they also discovered that gay men may be in better shape than straight men when it comes to these same factors.

“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,” said the study’s lead author Robert-Paul Juster. 

“We used measures of psychiatric symptoms, cortisol levels throughout the day, and a battery of over twenty biological markers to assess allostatic load.”

Cortisol is a stress hormone in our body. When chronically strained, cortisol contributes to the ‘wear and tear’ exerted on multiple biological systems. Taken together, this strain is called “allostatic load”.

“Contrary to our expectations, gay and bisexual men had lower depressive symptoms and allostatic load levels than heterosexual men,” revealed Juster.

“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,” he added.

The scientists recruited eighty-seven Canadian men and women, all of whom were around twenty-five years of age. Over the course of several visits, the researchers collected psychological questionnaires, asked participants to provide saliva samples to measure cortisol over two days, and calculated allostatic load indices using results from blood, saliva, and urine samples.

The study’s authors said that the findings underline the role self-acceptance and disclosure has on the positive health and wellbeing of LGBs. In turn, this has important implications for ongoing political debates.

“Coming out might only be beneficial for health when there are tolerant social policies that facilitate the disclosure process,” said Juster. “Societal intolerance during the disclosure process impairs one’s self-acceptance that generates increased distress and contributes to mental and physical health problems.”

He noted that the participants in the study were Canadians who live in a liberal society and thus the results may not necessarily be true of out gay people living in more repressive countries or cultures.

“As the participants of this study enjoy progressive Canadian rights, they may be inherently healthier and hardier,” Juster said.

“Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate but a matter of public health. Internationally, societies must endeavour to facilitate this self-acceptance by promoting tolerance, progressing policy, and dispelling stigma for all minorities,” he added.

The researchers speculated that stigma-related stress suffered by LGBs might lead them to develop coping strategies that make them more effective at managing other future stress factors in their lives.

This could play a part in why they found that gay and bisexual men have lower depressive symptoms and allostatic load levels than heterosexual men. Juster told the Montreal Gazette that it could also be related to the fact that gay men appear to generally take better care of themselves.

The study was conducted by the Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) at Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital, affiliated with the University of Montreal, and was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.


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