Self-Reported Mental and Physical Health Symptoms and Potentially Traumatic Events Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Individuals: The Role of Shame

Jillian R. Scheer, Patricia Harney, Jessica Esposito, Julie M. Woulfe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals disproportionately face exposure to potentially traumatic events-adverse experiences that may have a traumatizing effect-and experience shame as a common consequence. Previous research demonstrates associations between shame and psychological and physical health issues among those with exposure to potentially traumatic events in general, with limited attention among LGBTQ individuals specifically. This study determined whether shame partially mediated the relationship between potentially traumatic events exposure and self-reported mental and physical health symptoms among LGBTQ individuals. Method: Participants were 218 self-identified LGBTQ individuals who reported experiencing at least one potentially traumatic event (e.g., childhood sexual abuse). Online surveys assessed the type and frequency of potentially traumatic events exposure, shame, self-reported mental health (depression symptoms, posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and substance use), and physical health symptoms (sexual risk behavior, somatic symptoms, and chronic health conditions). Results: Greater potentially traumatic events exposure was associated with greater shame, and greater shame was associated with worse self-reported mental and physical health. Potentially traumatic events exposure had a direct effect on self-reported mental and physical health, and shame partially mediated this relationship. Conclusion: Shame represents an important and modifiable factor that relates to poor health and may be amenable to change through psychosocial interventions. Given the prevalence of negative self-attribution stemming from potentially traumatic events exposure, in addition to the internalization of stigma among this population, practitioners need to uncover interventions specifically targeting shame when working with LGBTQ individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychology of Violence
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019



  • Health
  • Potentially traumatic events
  • Shame

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology

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