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J Consult Clin Psychol. 2015 Oct;83(5):890-901. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000047. Epub 2015 Aug 17.

The mental health of sexual minority adults in and out of the closet: A population-based study.

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Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health, Yale University.
Department of Epidemiology, Fielding School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles.
Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles.



Previous studies have found that sexual orientation concealment affords escape from stigma and discrimination but also creates a psychological toll. While disclosure alleviates the mental burden of concealment, it invites the stress of navigating a new public identity. Population-based samples that include both "in" and "out" sexual minorities provide an ideal opportunity to resolve limitations and inconsistencies of previous nonprobability investigations into the mental health correlates of concealment and disclosure.


Sexual minority participants in the California Quality of Life Survey (n = 2,083) indicated whether and when they first disclosed their sexual orientation to others. Prevalence of 1-year major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder was derived from the Composite International Diagnostic Interview-Short Form.


Closeted men (n = 84) were less likely to be depressed than out men, n = 1,047; odds ratio (OR) = 0.41; 95% CI [0.17, 0.996]. Men who were recently out (n = 201) experienced higher odds of major depressive disorder, OR = 6.21; 95% CI [1.53, 24.47], and generalized anxiety disorder, OR = 5.51; 95% CI [1.51, 20.13], as compared to closeted men. Men who were distantly out (n = 846) also experienced higher odds of major depressive disorder than men who were closeted, OR = 2.91; 95% CI [1.10, 7.69]. Recently out women (n = 243) experienced lower odds of depression than closeted women, n = 63; OR = 0.21; 95% CI [0.05, 0.96].


Whether being in or out of the closet is associated with depression and anxiety largely depends on gender. Clinical and policy implications are discussed in terms of the unique stressors facing men and women both in and out of the closet.

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