I have been following the story of the trapped Chilean miners since the beginning with great interest and hope. Today several news outlets reported the incredible news that after 69 days of being trapped deep in the mine, the first of the 33 miners is expected to be pulled out by rescue workers, followed by the rest. No miner in history has been trapped as long as the Chilean miners and survived, so this is an interesting situation that has literally never happened before.
I was interested to see some auxiliary coverage about the mental health issues the miners may have faced in the mine, and what issues they are expected to face with once they are rescued and trying to get back to a normal life. If they are rescued today, they will have been in the mine for over 2 months. Here are some things that experts have mentioned as potential health challenges and possible solutions for the miners:
- Anxiety & Panic Attacks: Some have suggested that the short rescue process may be even more anxiety-inducing than the time spent in the mine. The process involves traveling straight upward out of the mine in a tight, constricted tube of only 21 inches in diameter that will be spinning around in a circle for up to 25 minutes. Rescuers expect some of the miners are likely to experience panic attacks.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) & Anxiety: While it’s been reported that the miners seem to have done an excellent job of working together as a group to remain calm and occupied during their entrapment, some experts worry that they may face symptoms of PTSD after the rescue.
- Stress from Media Frenzy: Some expect that the media frenzy that will greet the miners upon their rescue will cause undue stress to the miners and their families and friends. A Chilean journalist has been helping the miners with materials on dealing with the media while they’ve been in the mine, in hopes of preparing these previously ordinary working men for the onslaught of sudden interest in their lives and stories.
In addition to mental health issues, the miners also face challenges with their physical health. The health issues are expected to vary from miner to miner, but it’s thought that most or all will have damage to their lungs from breathing shallow, dusty air in an oxygen-deprived environment; damage to their teeth from the lack of dental hygiene in the mine; vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight; some level of malnutrition and muscle atrophy; and possible fungal infections from spending so much time in a moist, dank environment. The rescue team has anticipated these health issues and have prepared as best as possible to deal with them as soon as possible.
Also, after being underground in the dark for so long, the miners’ eyes are at risk of being damaged by bright sunlight. American company Oakley has donated special sunglasses costing $450 each for the miners to wear. The sunglasses will provide 100% protection from UV rays and prevent the miners from permanently damaging their retinas & corneas when they come into the light from out of the mine.
Two Australian miners who were trapped for two weeks have sent the Chilean miners a letter with recommendations on how to cope. They said the most important thing was that they talk to someone about their ordeal to try to work through it by expressing themselves instead of bottling their feelings inside.
I sincerely hope that the Chilean miners are all rescued safely, and that the world community continues to support them as they grapple with their new-found celebrity, their myriad health concerns, and their mental health post-rescue.