A new study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry finds that LGBT young people benefit greatly from coming out in school, even in cases where they experience bullying. Indeed, the study found that the positive effects of coming out actually seemed to counteract some of the consequences of bullying that LGBT students might experience in school.
Research has consistently shown that anti-LGBT victimization in schools is associated with negative adjustment for students, but being out is associated with positive adjustment for LGBT students. Students who were out in this study demonstrated lower levels of depression and higher levels of satisfaction and self-esteem, effects that carried into young adulthood. Though it was previously assumed that being out increased the amount of victimization, the current study found that LGBT students experienced bullying whether they were out or not.
That’s because students who feel the need to hide their identity are already exposed to a toxic environment, and hiding, itself, contributes to depression. The study found that among the young people it studied, “attempts to hide their LGBT identities during adolescence were, on average, unsuccessful. The result appears to be more victimization and, ultimately, higher depression.”
In other words, coming out is worth the risk in most cases. Bullying and victimization that an out student might experience specifically because of their LGBT identity can certainly compromise the positive benefits of coming out, but overall, being out will still result in a net positive adjustment over hiding.
Previous studies have similarly found positive results when individuals come out, both for their mental health and overall happiness, provided they don’t face hostility for doing so. Parental reactions also play a huge make-or-break role in the outcomes of coming out. Coming out at work has been found to increase the success of the individuals coming out and even the productivity of their coworkers.
Coming out early could thus set young people on a course to be more successful over the rest of their lives.