What is it about?

In this study we demonstrate and describe long-lasting emotional and psychological impacts of being responsible for the accidental death of another person. Individuals who have experienced such events tend to have high rates of depression, PTSD, "moral injury" (i.e. guilt and shame) and functional impairment. Outcomes are worse if they experienced bullying or ostracization by others and outcomes are better with social support and connection to community.

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Why is it important?

Moral injury is a relatively new area of research and mental health treatment development. The great majority of that work to date has focused on military and combat populations. Researchers and clinicians have generally neglected empirical study of distress resulting from accidental killing of others among civilians even though such incidents are not rare (e.g., drinking and driving fatalities, texting and driving fatalities, medical errors resulting in fatality, etc.).


For too long, individuals who have inadvertently caused great harm or suffering to others have not been represented in research relating to distress conceptualization and treatment-outcome efforts. This study describes common and long-lasting emotional and psychological consequences of accidental death and describes factors that make readjustment better or worse.

Matt Gray
University of Wyoming

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The psychological and emotional impact of unintentional killing: Moral injury in a civilian population., Traumatology An International Journal, February 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/trm0000466.
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