Gay teenagers who come out at school emerge with higher self-esteem and lower levels of depression than if they had not – and are no more likely to be bullied.
New research, said to be the first to document the benefits of coming out during adolescence, suggests that teenagers should not be advised to keep their sexuality quiet in the hope of minimising the risk of classroom abuse.
Stephen Russell, the director of the University of Arizona’s Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth and Families, and the lead author of the study, said: “Being out is good for you. Being able to be who we are is crucial to mental health.”
After examining data on 245 gay and lesbian people in their early 20s, the researchers found that teenagers experienced victimisation and bullying in school over their gender identity or sexuality regardless of whether they came out or not. Those who had come out in school, however, reported higher self-esteem and life satisfaction as young adults than those who had tried to hide their sexuality or gender identity.
Coming out in school also led to lower levels of depression in early adulthood.
Professor Russell, who started his study after being asked to act as an expert witness in a legal case, and realising that he could not say with absolute certainty that coming out in school was the best option, said: “Until now, 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 victimisation? Our study points to the positive role of coming out for youth and young adult well-being.”
He added that the study, published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, would be important for educating parents and teachers about the best guidance.
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