Moral Injury

What is Moral Injury? 

Moral injury refers to the psychological, social and spiritual impact of events involving betrayal or transgression of one’s own deeply held moral beliefs and values occurring in high stakes situations. Moral injury is not a recognized mental health disorder in itself, but may be associated with PTSD or depression.

Moral injury was first described in military personnel who returned from deployment having been involved in events that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs or values.  The impact of these experiences on individuals’ psychological, social and spiritual wellbeing was seen as being broader than the symptoms of PTSD or depression. 

The types of experiences that can lead to moral injury include are: 
  • You did something (or failed to do something) that went against your moral code or values (e.g., you harmed someone or failed to protect someone from harm), or
  • You saw someone (or people) do something or fail to do something that went against your moral code or values (e.g., you witnessed cruel behavior), or
  • You were directly affected by someone doing something or failing to do something that went against your moral code or values (e.g., being betrayed by someone you trusted).          

How do I recognise Moral Injury in myself or others?

The effects of moral injury can include feelings of guilt, shame, anger, sadness, anxiety and disgust; beliefs about being bad, damaged or unworthy; self-handicapping behaviours; loss of faith in people and avoidance of intimacy; and loss of religious faith, or loss of faith in humanity or a just world.

How do I know when to seek help?

If you are experiencing distress that lasts for more than a few days and/or is interfering with your daily life and wellbeing, it is time to seek help.  If your distress is leading to thoughts of suicide or self-harm please seek help immediately.