by madeline roth 2/10/2015
While it’s easy to dismiss the at times naïve idea that “it gets better” for all LGBT youth as they grow up, a new study seems to show that yes, it actually does.
The study — published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry — shows that LGBT teens who come out in high school have higher self-esteem and lower levels of depression as adults, compared to those who hid their sexual orientation in school.
To reach that conclusion, researchers looked at data from the Family Acceptance Project, a research and education initiative at San Francisco State University that promotes the well-being of LGBT kids and teens. The project surveyed 245 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young adults, ages 21 to 25, and asked them about their experiences in high school and whether they came out or not.
Researchers were trying to figure out if high school students who were “out” fare better later in life than those who weren’t. “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 victimization?” asked the study’s lead author, Stephen T. Russell, a professor at University of Arizona.
The results show that, even after accounting for bullying, those who were open about their sexual orientation in high school had higher levels of self-esteem as young adults than those who didn’t reveal it or tried to hide it. The results were the same across genders and ethnicities.
Of course, everyone’s situation is different, and this study certainly can’t be applied to every LGBT teen. After all, coming out has its own risks for everyone.
That being said, the findings do show that being completely open about who you are does have emotional benefits, and coming out may be better in the long run for those who feel comfortable and safe enough to do so.
Hopefully, the study’s findings will do a lot of good. For example, it highlights the need for schools to have policies that protect all students, and also highlights the need for supportive environments that make LGBT youth feel comfortable enough to come out.