Article looks at the role of 'moral injury' in veteran suicides

Veteran holding head in hands

High rates of suicide among war veterans has been a problem in our society for many years. It’s generally blamed on post-traumatic stress disorder, but recently it has been shown that many people are showing symptoms of something different — something they’re calling “moral injury.”

This is the topic that UO psychology professor Holly Arrow and psychology doctoral candidate William Shumacher write about in an article for The Conversation.

“Moral injury can occur when a personal moral code — one’s understanding of ‘what’s right’ — is violated,” they said. “Most of us occasionally stray from what our code says is right, but military service, especially in combat zones, can expose people to situations in which every available choice has morally fraught results.”

So moral injuries are yet another side effect of war, one that comes when someone is forced to make a decision between different flawed outcomes. But the good news is, at least according to Arrow and Shumacher, it can be treated.

“Mental health treatment can help,” they said. “Preliminary evidence suggest that cognitive-behavioral therapy modified to treat issues related to moral injury can reduce depression as well as guilt- and shame-related thought. Treatment can come in other forms as well; psychotherapist Edward Tick organizes trips to Vietnam for U.S. veterans to meet their Vietnamese counterparts, for the healing of decades-long wounds.”

To read the full article, see “What is moral injury in veterans?” It has also been picked up by Raw Story, the Houston Chronicle, the Stamford Advocate, SF Gate and The Gospel Herald Society.