Science-- there's something for everyone

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Honesty is the healthiest policy for LGB people

One of the least surprising studies about homosexuality has come out recently. Did you know that lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) people have less depression and drug use if they are able to disclose their sexual orientation to a supportive parent?

In general, LGB adults have poorer health outcomes. They experience more mental health and substance abuse problems than their straight counterparts. Emily Rothman of Boston University and her colleagues from Emory University and the University of Massachusetts wondered whether this could be a result of the stress of hiding their sexual orientation from their parents.

It’s important to note that not all disclosures are created equally. Coming out to a supportive parent is not the same as coming out to an unsupportive or abusive parent. Therefore, the researchers looked at four groups of adults: heterosexuals, LGB people who had not disclosed their sexual orientation, LGB people who had disclosed their sexual orientation to a parent who reacted positively, and LGB people who had disclosed their sexual orientation to a parent who was unsupportive. For each group, risk behaviors such as illicit drug use, binge drinking, smoking were assessed. In addition, each participant was asked to self rate his or her physical and mental health.

The researchers observed the following trends. The LGB population as a whole had a higher rate of risk behaviors and poor mental and physical health than heterosexuals. Interestingly, there was a dichotomy between men and women on how helpful it was to tell parents at all. Lesbian or bisexual girls fared better when they told parents their sexual orientation but non-disclosure did not affect health risks for gay or bisexual boys. However, both men and women who had come out to supportive parents had much better health outcomes than those whose parents had received the news poorly.

Although over 70% of LGB people said that they had eventually disclosed their sexual orientation to their parents, most of them were in their twenties when they did so. Only a third of the people who had come out to a parent had done so during their teens. Since disclosing sexual orientation to a supportive parent has definite health benefits, the authors suggest that parents be given guidelines on how best to support children, should they turn out to be LG or B.