What is it about?

People may intentionally harm themselves as a form of coping with life stressors and overwhelming negative emotions. Prior research examining the role of sexual orientation-related stress in self-injury suggests that sexual orientation disclosure and discrimination are influential factors. Benjamin F. Shepherd, a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at Nova Southeastern University, and colleagues examined data from 792 lesbian, gay, and bi+ (LGB+) young adults ages 18 to 29 who participated in a three-wave longitudinal study (one month between waves) of minority stress and mental health. This study found that LGB+ young adults who experienced discrimination one month after disclosing their sexual identity to others (e.g., family, friends, at work/school) were more likely to engage in self-injury two months later, even after accounting for other known risk factors for self-injury (e.g., depression). These findings clarify that sexual orientation disclosure itself, although commonly a stressful process, is not a risk factor for self-injury; rather, it is the discrimination that can follow disclosure that contributes to adverse mental health outcomes such as self-injury.

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Why is it important?

As the young adult population becomes more diverse in terms of sexual orientation—coming out earlier and more frequently than older cohorts—it is important to investigate if disclosing one’s identity is associated with mental health outcomes such as self-injury as well as potential reasons for why these associations may exist. According to this study, identity disclosure itself does not appear to contribute to self-injury, but the social response (e.g., discrimination) subsequent to disclosure does. This distinction can guide future research and assessment, as well as clinical interventions. Thoughtful consideration of the risks and benefits associated with disclosure to different people may help LGB+ young adults be more strategic in their efforts to increase social support and minimize exposure to discrimination. In addition, there is a need for community and societal changes (e.g., inclusive laws and policies, implementation of bullying prevention programs for youth) to reduce discrimination and support the mental health of LGB+ young adults.

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Out of the closet, but not out of the woods: The longitudinal associations between identity disclosure, discrimination, and nonsuicidal self-injury among sexual minoritized young adults., Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, August 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/sgd0000597.
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