The world is in awe of the way in which the Chilean government, the mining company, the miners and their families (and, for that matter, the world’s media) have handled this staggeringly unusual crisis. It would be wrong to be complacent while the rescue operation continues but it would be wrong, also, to focus only on the miners’ release and the immediate aftermath. The miners who are already above ground are now in medical care; checking their physical health is a priority of course.
So is managing their mental health and the Chilean government has already said it will do all it can to support the miners for the long term which must include understanding and treating their psychological reactions.
What about others? Everyone closely involved in the operation could be affected by this internationally-followed crisis, the rescuers who travel down the mine to assess the health and welfare of the miners before they are transported above ground; the people deciding who should be rescued first, last and in between; the people who built and tested the rescue pod or who created and lined the shaft; the families waiting, uncertain whether the crisis would end in tragedy or joy; wives, partners, mistresses (as reported by the media), children, parents who find their husband, lover, father, child has changed having lived for so long with uncertainty, underground; the head of the mining company; the media observing it all; even the president of Chile. All could be affected by this incident, and in unpredictable ways or not affected at all and be accused of callousness or indifference. That’s the effect of trauma.
Even the word trauma conjures up dramatic incidents, but a trauma cannot be measured on any scale other than the one by which the person affected measures it. Something others perceive as trivial or inconsequential could have a massive impact for the person experiencing it. No one else should be your judge and jury; if you feel you have experienced a trauma, you’ve experienced a trauma. And that means you could be struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The effect of trauma can come and go, be ever-present, last for life, or disappear soon after it emerged. The good news is that much more is known, now, about PTSD and the way it can be treated. One particularly effective treatment, recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), is EMDR (to continue with the acronyms, this one stands for eye movement desensitisation reprocessing). The effect of EMDR is thought to be similar to REM sleep, during which the brain makes sense of the day’s events, reprocessing the memory and releasing problem emotions and associations.
EMDR could help the Chilean miners and others associated with them, just as it could help anyone who has experienced a trauma, whether the cause of the trauma was obviously dramatic to a wide-eyed world or invisible to everyone but you. The point is to seek help, not suffer in silence believing you ought not to be affected.