Own soul's warning: Moral injury, suicidal ideation, and meaning in life.

Objective: Moral injury (an inner conflict [or cognitive dissonance] used to describe psychological, ethical, and/or spiritual conflict experienced when an individual’s basic sense of humanity is violated) has been associated with suicidal ideation among military populations. However, mechanisms linking moral injury to suicidal ideation, particularly variables that may protect against suicidal ideation, have received limited attention. This study examined whether two domains of meaning in life (presence of meaning in life and searching for meaning in life) mediated the links between self- and other-directed moral injury and suicidal ideation.


Method: Participants were a community sample of 269 predominantly recent-era former service members who completed an online, anonymous voluntary survey.


Results: When examined in separate models, self-directed moral injury and other-directed moral injury were found to associate with higher suicidal ideation via a lower presence of meaning in life (no significant associations with searching for meaning in life). When examined in an exploratory combined model (i.e., both self-directed and other-directed moral injury entered in the same model), only the association between self-directed moral injury and suicidal ideation via the presence of meaning in life remained statistically significant.


Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the presence of meaning in life may serve as a protective factor for veterans experiencing moral injury (particularly self-directed moral injury) that is associated with suicidal ideation. It is possible that guiding veterans with moral injury symptoms to develop more meaning or purpose in their lives may reduce suicidal ideation.

Kelley, M.L., Chae, J.W., Bravo, A.J., Milam, A.L., Agha, E., Gaylord, S.A., Vinci, C., & Currier, J.M. | 2021
In: Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy ; ISSN : 1942-9681
Online ahead of print DOI: 10.1037/tra0001047
Epidemiology, Guilt, Military Personnel, Moral Injury (eng), Quality of Life, Research, Shame, Suicidality, Veterans