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Staying in the closet is stressful - study

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Gays and lesbians who come out about their sexual orientation are less stressed than those who remain in the closet, and often more relaxed than heterosexuals, according to a study released Tuesday.

Researchers at Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital, affiliated with the University of Montreal, tested the levels of cortisol -- a stress hormone -- and other indicators of strain in homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals.

“Contrary to our expectations, gay and bisexual men had lower depressive symptoms and allostatic load levels (a measure of body stress) than heterosexual men,” lead author Robert-Paul Juster said.

“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,” he added.

The researchers tested 87 men and women, all around age 25, administering psychological questionnaires and taking blood, saliva and urine samples to measure stress.

The findings, published Tuesday in Psychosomatic Medicine, could lend support to gay rights advocates.

The mostly French-speaking province of Quebec has long been a haven for French homosexuals who say they face intolerance in their native country, which is now locked in a heated debate over legalizing gay marriage and adoption.

“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 endeavor to facilitate this self-acceptance by promoting tolerance, progressing policy, and dispelling stigma for all minorities.”

When asked about the small sample size, Juster told AFP that given the cost of the study -- with each participant getting $500 -- the number of people surveyed was “respectable.”

He added that neurological studies often seek out more detailed information from a smaller pool of subjects, compared to epidemiological research. - AFP

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