The impact of morally injurious events in a refugee sample: A quantitative and qualitative study

N. Mooren*, P.A. Boelen, S.M. de la Rie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often reported by refugees that faced violence and persecution. Some stressful events may also entail moral conflicts or dilemmas, described as “potentially morally injurious events” (PMIE). Very few studies have yet investigated the nature of these PMIEs in traumatized refugees, using both quantitative and qualitative data. Method: For this retrospective study, secondary data analysis was used to examine the traumatic events of 183 patients. Based on established definitions of a PMIE, participants were allocated to a Moral Injury (MI) group if they reported lasting distress after exposure to an event of which they indicated that it transgressed their moral beliefs. The remaining participants were allocated to the No-MI group. The type of PMIEs was categorized using qualitative analysis. The groups were compared in terms of PTSD severity, feelings of guilt, and general mental health symptoms. Results: Of the total sample, 55 participants reported one or more acts of transgression (MI group) and 128 reported no acts of transgression (No-MI group). Analyses of PMIEs revealed six themes 1) failing to prevent harm to others, 2) not giving aid to people in need, 3) leaving family members behind that consequently lead to injury or death of others, 4) making indirect and direct moral decisions leading to injury or death of others, 5) betrayal, and 6) engaging in the harm of others. No differences were found between groups on the clinical outcomes, except for feelings of guilt. Conclusion: A considerable number of traumatized refugees reported confrontation with PMIEs. Experiencing PMIEs appeared unrelated to elevated posttraumatic mental health issues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number904808
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2022


  • guilt
  • moral injury
  • moral stress
  • PTSD
  • refugees


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