SOURCE: University of Arizona, news release, Feb. 9, 2015
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 11, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens who come out at high school have better mental health as young adults than those who aren't open with their fellow high school students, according to a new study.
Researchers examined data from a San Francisco State University survey of 245 Hispanic and white lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young adults, ages 21 to 25. The participants said they were bullied in high school, whether they had come out or not.
Those who were open about their sexual orientation or gender identity in high school had higher levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction and lower levels of depression as young adults than those who did not reveal, or tried to conceal, their LGBT identity.
"The thing that's encouraging is that we've found being out is good for you," study leader Stephen Russell, director of the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth and Families at the University of Arizona, said in a university news release.
"This is clearly aligned with everything we know about identity. Being able to be who we are is crucial to mental health," Russell added.
Sometimes, adults advise LGBT teens to not reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity. They may believe that non-disclosure helps protect the teens from harm. But, that may not be the best advice, according to Russell and his co-author, Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project in San Francisco.
"We know from our other studies that requiring LGBT adolescents to keep their LGBT identities secret or not to talk about them is associated with depression, suicidal behavior, illegal drug use and risk for HIV. And helping them learn about and disclose their LGBT identity to others helps protect against risk and helps promote self-esteem and overall health," Ryan said.
"Until now," Russell added, "a key question about balancing the need to protect LGBT youth from harm while promoting their well-being has not been addressed: Do the benefits of coming out at school outweigh the increased risk of victimization? Our study points to the positive role of coming out for youth and young adult well-being."
The findings can help parents, school officials and others provide the best support and guidance for LGBT teens, according to Russell.
The study was published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about LGBT health.