Why is Authenticity Important for your Mental Health?

To celebrate #PrideMonth, we explore the health benefits of embracing who you are and how to navigate stigmas and discrimination along the way.

Elliot Page announced he is transgender in December 2020. Since then, he has spoken openly about the positive impact his transition has had on his mental health.

Please note: In this article, we explore why coming out as LGBTQIA+ can benefit your mental health. But you must be in an environment where it is safe to do so. Do you think coming out would risk your personal or professional safety? If yes, first focus on finding ways to navigate these difficult realities.

Living true to ourselves, is the apple-a-day of our mental health. When we are authentic, we embrace each part of our identity, from our intellectual interests to our sexual orientation. In doing so, we can live with a sense of wholeness, meaning and satisfaction.

In particular, when individuals come out, they begin to integrate aspects of their identity they have been suppressing into their lives. This can have a powerful ripple effect on their mental health. For Pride Month, we asked our team at Paracelsus Recovery to explain some of these health benefits.

What is Authenticity?

In the field of psychology, authenticity refers to a person living in accordance with their true self and personal values. Inauthenticity occurs when we mould ourselves to fit external demands. Of course, this does not mean we should act on every whim and reject societal norms. Instead, authenticity occurs on a spectrum. In an ideal scenario, we can create a dialogue between who we are and what is required of us.

Studies (2020) show that those who identify as authentic report higher levels of happiness and fulfilment. For instance, one study in 2018 found that when young transgender people used their chosen names, they reported fewer incidents of suicidal thoughts or depressive symptoms.

What are the Health Benefits?

Authenticity impacts us positively in a number of ways, including:

· Being true to ourselves makes us feel safer and calmer

A 2013 study found that openly lesbian, gay and bisexual people had substantially lower levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, than their peers who were still in the closest. This is because if we hide a core part of ourselves, it can make us feel on-edge and unsafe. Neurochemically, these experiences turn on our flight-or-fight response.

If you are struggling with these feelings but coming out is not an option, focus on stress-management techniques, such as meditation or mindfulness. If possible, reach out to a professional.

One study found that within a group of 46 lesbians, gay or bisexual participants, the 31 individuals who’d come out had noticeably lower cortisol levels than the 15 who hadn’t disclosed their orientation to others.

· We are more in-tune with our bodies

Carl Rogers, the founder of person-centred psychology, argued that authenticity is the bedrock of our mind-body relationship. Without it, we cannot trust our feelings or intuition.

When we cannot express our sexual orientation, it can sever this link between our body and our minds. But, when we come out as who we are we are no longer at odds with our bodily sensations. This has countless positive effects on our self-esteem, anxiety levels and our physical health.

· Fosters a sense of community

When we come out, it can deepen our relationships and foster a sense of community. Humans are tribal creatures which means when we feel a sense of belonging it drastically improves our mental wellbeing.

For example, an aspect of realising you’re bi, gay, trans, non-binary or simply anything other than cisgender and heterosexual, is accepting that you have felt somewhat different from the majority for most of your life. When we realise and embrace this, we can become part of a community that understands and empathises with our experiences.

Philosophers and psychologists agree that the formula for happiness includes the ability to authentically express ourselves, a sense of well-being and an active engagement with life or work.

But…It’s Complicated

We often (naively) think of coming out as a quick grand gesture. The individual proclaims their sexual orientation and leaves the proverbial closest forever. In reality, it is more of a long-term negotiation full of challenges. For example, LGBTQIA+ people must decide whether to reveal their sexual orientation each time they start a new job or meet someone new. As a result, coming out is a continuous process.

Unfortunately, LGBTQIA+ people also experience mental health disorders disproportionately to the rest of the population. While coming out, for those who are able to, can alleviate some of this suffering, stigmas, discrimination and violence once a person is out play a substantial role in these worrying statistics.

It is no surprise many struggle to cope with these challenging and unfair circumstances. That is why it is important to be mindful of your mental health and seek professional help if you need it.

Watch out for symptoms of depression such as:

A negative perspective on life.

• Suicidal thoughts or self-harm.

• Increased fatigue and sleep problems.

And signs of a substance abuse issue including:

Inability to control your substance use.

• Using a substance in secret.

• Increased paranoia.

Finally, we recognise that the situation is even more challenging for ultra-high-net-worth individuals or those living in the public eye. For example, if the CEO of a company in a part of the world where LGBTQIA+ rights are contested came out, it could damage the business. This, in turn, could impact their employees’ livelihood and wellbeing. In these situations, try to be extra mindful of your wellbeing and compassionate to your true, authentic self.

While coming out can alleviate some symptoms, it is not always simple. It can be traumatic in and of itself to realise that in order to live your life authentically, you may have to sacrifice relationships with loved ones.

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