What lessons do coming out as gay men or lesbians have for people stigmatized by mental illness?

Patrick W. Corrigan, Jonathon E. Larson, Julie Hautamaki, Alicia Matthews, Sachi Kuwabara, Jennifer Drothy Rafacz, Jessica Walton, Abigail Wassel, John O'Shaughnessy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Goffman (Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity, Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NH, 1963) distinguished stigmatized groups as discredited (with relatively obvious marks such as people of color or gender) or discreditable (without obvious marks, causing stigma to be largely hidden). Like gay men and lesbians, people with various mental illnesses can opt to stay in the closet about these conditions in order to avoid corresponding prejudice and discrimination. In this study, we completed semi-structured interviews with 13 gay men and lesbians in order to better understand the personally perceived consequences that guide the coming out process. This information would, in turn, help us to better comprehend the process of coming out for people with mental illnesses. Interview participants identified specific benefits and costs. Benefits that promote disclosure include acceptance, community, and comfort and happiness. Costs that diminish coming out decisions include shame and conformity as well as harm and discrimination. We then postulated how these consequences might manifest themselves in the disclosure process of people with serious mental illnesses. Finally, implications for stigma management and change were considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)366-374
Number of pages9
JournalCommunity Mental Health Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • Coming out
  • Serious mental illness
  • Stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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