The wounds you can’t see

We’ve heard of burnout and PTSD but what about “moral injury”, that’s affecting soldiers and also Covid-19 health workers?

“Soul sick”.  

That’s how some of the literature describes the effects of “moral injury” on people. Perhaps we’re more used to violence leaving a physical mark or causing psychological trauma that disrupts a person’s ability to live their everyday life.  

But moral injury is a different kind of wound altogether. As defined by Andrew Sloane, theologian and Morling College ethicist, “it’s when somebody has either done or witnessed something which is in deep conflict with their internalised moral values, and it leaves them damaged psychologically, emotionally, ethically, spiritually.” 

It is a disruption to someone’s understanding of themselves. It’s a matter of wounded identity and a wounded sense of what the world is meant to be and who they’re meant to be in it,” Andrew said, before explaining how the experience of caring for people during the Covid-19 pandemic left many health workers morally injured.  

In this episode of Life & Faith, we also hear from Sam Gregory, the last Australian Defence Force (ADF) chaplain in Afghanistan, sent there as Coalition forces were withdrawing after 20 years in the country.  

He describes the turmoil of feeling “the sense [that] we weren’t done yet, and that we were being constrained by political forces to bring about the end of that operation”. Then there were his “feelings of profound shame” that Australian military involvement in Afghanistan meant that soldiers essentially had to dehumanise not only the enemy but also their local allies. 

“My faith tells me that every human is made in the image of God and therefore worthy of dignity and respect and value. And then I’m part of an organiszation that has taken that dignity and respect away from a whole nation of people,” Sam said. 

This is a confronting and difficult exploration of the invisible wounds suffered by those to whom we entrust our safety and security. But as health workers leave the caring professions, and returned war veterans struggle to adjust to normal life, it’s an increasingly necessary conversation.  



Andrew Sloane’s article for ABC Religion & Ethics on moral injury and Covid-19 health workers 

Atonement: the Australian Story episode featuring Dean Yates