Out of the Mine, But Not the Woods
The Chilean miners may have finally emerged from the trapped mine, but now they face a psychological future that is much more uncertain.
As cameras captured images that gripped the world, the 33 miners emerged from the mine one by one looking robust, joyful, even little rosy. But at the hospital where they were quickly flown, reality began to set in.
The miners lived for 69 days 2,052 feet underground – in isolation, extreme heat, humidity and no sunlight. Experts say that will have consequences, if not physically then at least psychologically.
Chile Health Minister Jaime Manalich said many of the miners had been unable to sleep, wanted to talk with families and were anxious.
Chilean doctors said miner Mario Sepulveda told him about an internal "fight with the devil" that he had inside the mine. Jimmy Sánchez, the youngest miner and father of a 4-month-old baby, appeared to be having a hard time adjusting, and seemed depressed.
"He spoke very little and didn't seem to connect," Dr. Guillermo Swett told the Associated Press.
Physically, the men seemed to be in remarkably decent health, considering the length of time they were underground. One was treated for pneumonia; two will undergo oral surgery for teeth infections or abscesses. Others have a form of lung disease common for miners, Silicosis.
Psychologically though, their challenges are just beginning.
Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist, Fox News Channel correspondent and bestselling author, said they may face post-traumatic street disorder, addiction and deep depression. They will also question their marriage and have thoughts of suicide, Ablow said.
That’s because of a roller-coaster of emotions the men have and will endure and because their sudden shot to fame will leave them emotionally vulnerable, especially when their popularity eventually fades.
“Just a few months ago they were just miners. Then they were victims were who wondering day by day if they were going to die,” Ablow said. “Now they are national and international heroes, but in a few months, or years they will be forgotten. All that takes a toll on the nervous system.”
Chile has promised to care for the miners for six months at least until they can be sure each man has readjusted.
But Ablow said there are things health experts could do to prevent the miners from falling into depression and ending up going through messy divorces.
“If the counselors could predict this it would be helpful,” he said.
The miners, he said, should immediately start marriage and family counseling, should meet in groups for support and, if exhibiting signs of anxiety, should start taking medications. They should also be paired up with someone as a sponsor.
“If they get the proper mental health help," Albow said. "Then all the problems they could face are less likely to happen.”