Maybe gay really does mean happy: A new study has found that gay and bisexual men are less likely to be depressed and have psychological problems than heterosexual men.
Often seen as one of the defining moments of a gay, lesbian or bisexual person's life, "coming out of the closet" may have tangible health benefits, and "out" gay people may have less anxiety and stress than heterosexuals, according to a new study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, by researchers at the University of Montreal.
In a study of 87 lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual men and women from the Montreal area who were both open about their sexuality as well as still in the closet, sexual minorities who had told their family and friends about their orientation have less anxiety, depression and burnout than sexual minorities who haven't told both their friends and family.
But, most surprisingly, says study lead author Robert-Paul Juster, is the fact that, as a group, gay and bisexual men who are out of the closet were less likely to be depressed than heterosexual men and had less physiological problems than heterosexual men.
"Our research suggests coming out of the closet has some health benefits," says Robert-Paul Juster, the study's lead author. "Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate, but a matter of public health."
Juster says that previous studies have shown gay and bisexual men are more likely to work out and eat a healthy diet than heterosexual men, which could be one of the reasons they were less often depressed. The act of discussing their sexuality with friends and family may also play a role, he suggests.
"Something about coming out of the closet might make them more resilient—if you go through a major, stressful event like that you have to develop coping strategies that you might be able to use in the future," he says. "We also saw body mass index and inflammation were lower in gay and bisexual men, which fits with the idea that they're taking better care of their bodies than heterosexual men."
Though it may make sense that "out" LGBT people are less likely to be stressed, previous studies have shown that the period immediately after a LGBT person reveals their sexuality to family and friends can also be dangerous, as suicide and depression rates increase.
Juster says recruiting closeted people for the study was difficult, but that the study used a series of questionnaires and biomarkers to determine sexual orientation and closeted status.
"We had them literally spit, piss, and bleed for us because we wanted to have a very strong study that used biomarkers," he says.
Future studies need to be done in other, less liberal cities than Montreal, Juster says. In general, larger cities such as Montreal are more accepting of sexual minorities and have larger communities of sexual minorities, giving LGBT people a larger support network. Future studies might focus on the mental health of LGBT people before and after gay marriage laws are passed in certain states.
"I think in the United States we have a golden opportunity to look at states before and after gay marriage legalization and passage of other policies," Juster says. "I'd like to do a similar study, using a lot of biological measures, to see if there's something about legalization [of gay marriage] that improves mental health."