A conference on mental health happens Thursday February 21st and Friday February 22nd in Boulder County, organized by the Interfaith Network. The topic of discussion at the keynote address on Friday evening is moral injury. According to the key-note speaker Carrie Doehring, Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at the Iliff School of Theology and at Denver University, moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when said person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress their own moral or ethical values.
“It causes a kind of stress that is really existentially troubling, and moral injury is stress that involves a traumatic event, often a life threatening event where we are forced to make a choice towards living out one set of values versus another set of values, or it feels like our own life and well being or someone else’s life and well being is at stake. And the actual term moral injury arose in the context of combat post traumatic stress or military post traumatic stress where they realized that a military personnel who had to make these very quick decisions about life and death matters, and they made a choice that actually or did threaten or destroy life. They experienced something that was different from post traumatic stress, which is energized by intense fear, what they were experiencing was a kind of moral quandary energized by intense guilt about causing harm.”
Moral stress doesn’t just happen with soldiers, though. It can happen to anyone when their core values are brought into conflict with one another. To give an example, Doehring elaborated on her own experience with moral injury. Last June, the younger of her two children took his life. At a moment in his life where her son had chosen death for himself, and she and her husband were left to hold onto life for him, she became faced with the moral stress of being a good mother, as well as a good teacher. “Myself, and any parent with these kind of struggles is constantly navigating the terrain of moral stress. And if you don’t have conversations partners and support to do that, especially moral stress that’s privatized around family roles, the research shows it leads to much higher levels of depression and anxiety.”
Professor Carrie Doehring will speak on Moral Injury Friday February 22nd from 7 to 8.30pm at the United Church of Christ in Longmont as part of the two day conference organized by the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.