The Big Benefit to Coming Out in High School

In case you needed another reason why "conversion therapy" and trying to get people to repress their sexuality or gender identity isn't a good idea, here you go. Research shows that LGBT people who are out in their teens have better mental health as adults. In other words, being able to be open about who you are is good for you, and repressing who you are can have unfortunate long-term effects.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, people who come out about their sexuality or gender identity in high school appear to have higher self-esteem and experience less depression than people who did not come out until later in life. In the study, which was conducted in Northern California, researchers from the University of Arizona asked 245 LGBT people between the ages of 21 and 25 about their experiences in high school: "How out" they had been on a scale of zero to four, whether they had faced bullying due to being perceived as LGBT, and what their life satisfaction and self-esteem was like. Although most of the respondents faced some form of bullying, the researchers found that the more out a student was in high school, the higher their self-esteem was today — despite the fact that out teens tended to face more bullying.

And while it should be noted that this study involved a relatively small sample of people living in an area that is generally friendly to LGBT people, the results are still encouraging for anyone who's facing difficulty after coming out to their friends and family. It really does get better.

The researchers, while aware that their findings are not definitive, say that this could throw into question the idea that it's better for young people to stay in the closet in order to avoid bullying. And it certainly does make sense that spending years — particularly your very hormonal, emotionally charged, developmental teenage years — hiding a crucial part of your identity would be bad for you.

On the other hand, though, it's important to note that no one should ever feel pressured to come out at any age — especially if they are afraid the reactions from friends or family could be dangerous. Plus, it could well be that people who were out in their teens now have better mental health in some regards because their decision to come out early was influenced by the fact that they did have supportive family or friends; this, in turn, could be a big part of their high self-esteem and low depression. People who don't have that, or don't think they will, shouldn't feel pressured to come out.

Still, however we interpret this research, it does make it pretty clear that asking people to repress who they are or change who they are is a terrible idea. So let's all try to get people to stop doing that, shall we?

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