Learn / Coming Out and Mental Health: Navigating the Emotional Journey
Coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community can feel daunting, liberating, scary, or all of the above. It can also have positive or negative impacts on your mental health, both of which you can navigate.
Don’t feel like you need to follow a script, set of steps, or anything else to successfully come out. It’s up to you and what you’re comfortable with. You know your life and circumstances better than anyone else.
But you do have resources for the journey and its emotional effects.
The American Psychological Association defines coming out1 as, “self-awareness of same-sex attractions; the telling of one or a few people about these attractions; widespread disclosure of same-sex attractions; and identification with the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community.”
For many, coming out shapes the rest of their lives. It can be one of the most significant journeys you ever face. For others, it’s not a big deal. It’s different for everyone, and that’s perfectly okay.
A potent fear related to coming out is the possibility of rejection. Your loved ones could reject your core identity, and that would hurt.
Social prejudices, misconceptions, and misguided views could also make coming out scary, both right away and in your future. Even if the reactions aren’t negative, they might not feel affirming, either. Both can hurt.
Picking the right time to come out can also feel like a challenge. When do you say it, and who do you tell? Should you tell one person, or a group of your friends and family?
Only you can truly answer those questions. But the weight of wondering can affect your wellbeing. Drinking or using drugs could seem like a way to alleviate the stress. If you’re struggling with addiction, you can browse our list of LGBTQ+-affirming rehabs.
Feeling unaccepted can lead to depression, anxiety, and even trauma. Society’s attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community can also cause minority stress2, which can exacerbate or cause mental health conditions. Some may experience chronic minority stress, which means they’re hypervigilant to possible discrimination, frequently worried about it, or carry internalized stigma of themselves.
This stress, fear, grief, and trauma can create or worsen mental health conditions. It’s not hard to see why—but that’s not how the story has to go.
Coming out could relieve the emotional toll of hiding. When you come out, you won’t have to adjust your behaviors, actions, and words to hide who you really are. That can feel like a deep relief.
But make sure you know how you feel about your identity. Take a deep and thoughtful search of your heart—what do you feel when you think about who you are? Internalized homophobia can add stress and shame to your coming out journey. As much as you’re able, try to find and challenge these feelings.
Coming out can lead to self-acceptance, which can powerfully erase any internalized homophobia. And once you’ve accepted and embraced who you are, what others think might not matter so much. It’s okay and normal if it does. You have ways to navigate that, too.
Many support groups, online chats, and other resources can help you through the coming-out process. Here’s a few:
Coming out likely won’t be completely stress-free, and that’s okay. Whether the stressor is big or small, you have ways to manage your emotions and improve your wellbeing.
You can practice mindfulness and meditation when your emotions feel overwhelming. Try to identify the support you have in your life, too. The resources listed above definitely count as someone you can talk to when you feel overwhelmed.
Be sure to practice self-care, self-compassion, and self-acceptance as you plan and execute coming out. Don’t force yourself to follow what anyone else did, either. The way and time you come out is unique to you—try to take comfort in that. Here’s some other self-care steps you can take:
Your mentor could be someone who came out months or years ago. They can help you through the process and offer support from someone who’s really been there.
To find one, you can connect to an openly queer person in your life. Even if they’re not able to help you throughout the whole process, it might help you to know that they know what you’re going through. If you don’t know any potential mentors, or don’t feel comfortable doing so, you can connect with others online.
A negative reaction to your identity will probably hurt. But you can manage that pain by building resilience and creating a supportive, safe environment for yourself.
The American Psychological Association suggests group environments build resilience3. Your group may be other LGTBQ+ people in your neighborhood, work, or school, or a more formalized LGBTQ+ gathering. All your group must do is offer support and bring you happiness to strengthen your recovery.
A supportive environment will feel safe and accepting. For you, this might include your family, friends, or others in the LGBTQ+ community. It differs for everyone, and that’s okay. If your environment becomes unsupportive, consider leaving it, if you can. Mental health professionals can help you navigate this change.
Resilience also ties into self-care. The healthier you are physically, the more prepared you’ll be to handle emotional challenges. Take care of your mind, too. That’s where meditation, journaling, and mindfulness come in.
Coming out is your unique journey. It can come with stress, worry, and fear, even if you’re excited for the change. But you have help available along the way.
Along the way, make sure to prioritize your mental health and well being. You can do so through therapy, engaging in support, and actively practicing self-care.
And remember that your coming-out process is your own. If you think writing out a script will help, do it! If a video seems more helpful, or even baking a cake, do that! The path you take is up to you.
Good luck and be well.
Understanding sexual orientation and homosexuality. (n.d.). Https://Www.Apa.Org. Retrieved June 15, 2023, from https://www.apa.org/topics/lgbtq/orientation
Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129(5), 674–697. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.129.5.674
Building your resilience. (n.d.). Https://Www.Apa.Org. Retrieved June 15, 2023, from https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience/building-your-resilience
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