Moral injury: violating your ethical code can damage mental health

For many years, researchers have looked at the impact of traumatic events and the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But until recently, feelings of deep shame and guilt, stemming from doing things you believe are “wrong” and which are often a feature of trauma exposure, have not been studied to any great extent.

Moral injury is defined as the psychological distress which results from actions, or the lack of them, which violate your moral or ethical code. For example, due to a lack of resources, a humanitarian aid worker may be unable to provide adequate healthcare to all of their patients.

Many situations present professionals with ethical dilemmas – and the decisions made can have profound psychological consequences.

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