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Gays and Lesbians: Study demonstrates health benefits of coming out of the closet Out…

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 …lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are in better mental and physical health than others.  “Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate but a matter of public health” – lead author Robert-Paul Juster. Lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGBs) who are out to others  have  lower  stress  hormone  levels  and  fewer  symptoms  of  anxiety,  depression, and  burnout,  according  to  researchers  at  the Centre  for  Studies  on Human  Stress  at Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital, affiliated with the University of Montreal (CSHS). 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”. “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. We used measures of psychiatric symptoms, cortisol levels  throughout  the  day,  and  a  battery  of  over  twenty  biological markers  to  assess allostatic load,” explained lead author Robert-Paul Juster. “Contrary to our expectations, gay and bisexual men  had  lower  depressive  symptoms  and allostatic

  load  levels  than heterosexual men. 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.” Montrealers  of  diverse  sexual  orientations were  invited  to  the  laboratory  of Dr.  Sonia Lupien, Director of the CSHS. Lupien’s team recruited eighty-seven 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.  “Chronic stress and misbalanced cortisol levels can exert a kind of domino effect on connected biological systems,” Lupien said. “By looking at biomarkers like insulin, sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, adrenalin, and inflammation  together,  an  allostatic  load  index  can  be  constructed  and  then  used  to detect health problems before they occur.” Stigma-related  stress might  force  LGBs  to  develop  coping  strategies  that make  them more  effective  at  managing  future  stressors.  “Coming  out  of  the  closet  is  a  major milestone  in  lives of LGBs  that has not been studied extensively using  interdisciplinary approaches  that  assess  stress  biomarkers”  said  co-author  Dr.  Nathan  Grant  Smith. These  exciting  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.” “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.” The  research  was  published  in  Psychosomatic  Medicine  on  January  29,  2013.  The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal. About the researchers:  Robert-Paul Juster •  Doctoral candidate, Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University •  Research Intern, Centre for Studies on Human Stress, Fernand-Seguin Research Centre at Louis-H. Lafontaine Mental Health University Institute, affiliated with the University of Montreal. Sonia Lupien, PhD •  Director, Centre for Studies on Human Stress of the Fernand-Seguin Research Centre at Louis-H. Lafontaine Mental Health University Institute, affiliated with the University of Montreal  •  Scientific Director, Fernand-Seguin Research Centre •  Associate Professor, Psychiatry Department, University of Montreal •  Senior Investigator Chair on Sex, Gender and Mental Health, Canadian Institute of  Gender and Health. Nathan Grant Smith, PhD •  Assistant professor of Educational and Counselling Psychology, McGill University About this study:  This study was funded by a grant (222055) from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to Sonia Lupien who holds a Senior Investigator Chair on Gender and Mental Health from the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health (GSC 91039). Robert-Paul Juster held a Doctoral scholarship from the CIHR Institute of Aging (SIA 95402). News from: Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital


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