Morally injurious events and psychological distress among veterans: examining the mediating role of religious and spiritual struggles
OBJECTIVE: Potentially morally injurious events (PMIEs)-violations (perpetrated or witnessed) of one’s deeply held beliefs or values-have been associated with several forms of psychological distress. The values violated by PMIEs are often influenced by one’s religion/spirituality (r/s). Struggles with one’s r/s beliefs and/or practices may also contribute to elevated psychological distress. To further develop a framework for understanding and treating the sequelae of PMIE exposure, we examined the role of r/s struggles in the relation between PMIE exposure and psychological distress. METHOD: A diverse sample of 155 veterans at a large Veterans Affairs medical center completed questionnaires assessing PMIE exposure, r/s struggles, and psychological distress. RESULTS: Findings revealed greater PMIE exposure predicted elevated r/s struggles as well as elevated symptoms of anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Likewise, greater r/s struggles predicted elevated anxiety, PTSD, and depression symptoms. Regression analyses revealed r/s struggles fully mediated the relation between PMIE exposure and anxiety as well as PTSD, and a significant indirect effect of PMIE exposure on depression symptoms through r/s struggles was observed. Follow-up analyses revealed that no specific domain of r/s struggles accounted for the relation between PMIE exposure and psychological distress; rather, the overarching construct of r/s struggles accounted for this relation. CONCLUSION: These findings advance the evolving theoretical framework of moral injury, elucidating the salience of r/s struggles in the development of distress. Implications for moral injury intervention call for attention to potential dissonance between actions (witnessed or perpetrated) and r/s underpinnings of the individual’s moral framework.
Note: this article featured in the ACPE Research Network December 2017 Article of the Month and the Transforming Chaplaincy Idea in Brief from January 2, 2018.