Coming out as gay, lesbian or bisexual to one’s parents, especially supportive ones, can significantly improve their mental health, while reducing their propensities for substance abuse, a study by researchers at Boston University has found.

There was a statistically significant difference in the health benefits for those who received familial support against those who did not, the study found.

Gay and bisexual males who did not receive parental support, for example, had six to seven times greater likelihood of suffering from severe depression and alcohol abuse. In lesbian and bisexual women, the odds of depression was increased by five-fold, but the odds of substance abuse increased by eleven-fold.

The study has been published in the Journal of Homosexuality, for which researcher Emily Rothman and her colleagues surveyed 5,658 adults between 18 and 64 years of age. 75% of the respondents had come out to their parents, on average when they were 25 years old. The participants were controlled for age, race, education and status of health insurance, to tease out as closely as possible, the association between coming out and adult health.

A curious finding of the study is that the health benefits were greater for lesbian and bisexual women than it was for gay and bisexual men.

“It’s possible that the stress of not disclosing your sexuality to your parents affects men and women differently,” Dr Rothman said by way of explanation. She added: “In general, gay and bisexual men may be able to conduct their sexual lives apart from their parents with less stress. On the other hand, it’s also possible that this was an artifact of our particular sample.”

In terms of the message that their study offered, Dr. Rothman said: “The way we treat our LGB children, even from before the time they disclose their sexual orientation status, may have a long-term, significant impact on their health and ability to handle life’s challenges.”