A thematic analysis of the moral injury, psychological distress and wellbeing of RAF Reaper drone operators

Mark Doyle

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Moral injury, caused by repeated exposure to traumatic events that transgress existing moral beliefs and expectations, is now recognised for its detrimental effects upon military servicemen and women. Research has found that moral injury produces profound psychological and physiological disorders amongst this population. Yet, little is known as to how it manifests amongst screen mediated exposure to trauma, such as drone pilots; geographically distanced from war, yet virtually immersed.
    The study aims were to understand Reaper Drone operators’ experiences of moral injury in relation to their work, the effect of these upon their wellbeing and the factors that both contribute to and mitigate their moral injury. Ten participants (7 males and 3 females) were recruited from amongst Reaper pilots, sensor operators and mission intelligence coordinators. Data were gathered using semi-structured interviews and analysed using thematic analysis. Findings indicated that the combination of screen related trauma, unwelcomed sharing experiences, poor psychological training and intense scrutiny placed a high degree of burden on the mental health and psychological wellbeing of Reaper Drone operatives and contributed to their experiences of moral injury. These findings will be used to generate recommendations and design interventions to inform and support core criteria for moral injury in other screen-mediated organizational contexts. Future research is needed to explore in greater detail the prevalence and severity of mental health difficulties and underlying processes that permeate them.
    Keywords: screen-mediated moral injury, Reaper Drone operatives, thematic analysis, mental health.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
    Publication statusSubmitted - 23 Sept 2020


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