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Concern for psychological welfare when Chile miners emerge

SAN JOSE MINE, Wednesday 13 October 2010 (AFP) - The Chilean miners who have survived more than two months underground will emerge forever changed and may struggle to return to normal life, psychologists have warned.

Rescue teams on Wednesday hoisted the first of the 33 miners to the surface after 69 days trapped underground, with the men stepping out of a world of rock and darkness into the harsh glare of the world's media.

Some of the miners, who spent 17 days cut off from any contact with the outside world before finally making themselves heard, are likely to emerge stronger, while others could be more fragile, but all will be changed, psychologists said.

Chilean authorities have offered at least six months of psychiatric follow-up to the men who are now national heroes, which will take place alongside joyous family reunions and a new, however temporary, celebrity status.

"Their 'before' life is over," said Enrique Chia, a psychologist from Chile's Catholic University, who warned the readaptation process would be a big challenge "full of risks."

"When all your living conditions are suddenly changed, you have to readjust," Chia said.

"Someone who has faced death thinks about their personal situation... what they are and aren't doing in their life, and they need to be accompanied through that," said Margarita Loubat, a psychologist from Chile University.

Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich said the 33 miners, aged from 19 to 63 years old, had managed the situation "remarkably" and stayed calm up to now.

"Some (show) predictable signs of anxiety, others have shown increasing heart rates," as the exit approaches, Manalich said.

The miners were to undergo a mandatory string of tests during 48 hours in hospital after they emerged from their underground chamber, in an operation which could last up to two days.

"Some might say: 'I feel so good that I want to return to my family,'" but if they refuse the tests, "it will jeopardize all legal means of protection, disability benefit and pension rights," Manalich said.

Post-traumatic stress could last several weeks or months, the minister said.

Psychologists said it would be a major challenge to adapt to changes in their families, routines and the outside world.

Experts from US space agency NASA, who visited Chile to advise rescuers last month, warned that men's new-found fame would also trigger strong pressure from both the media and society.

Hundreds of journalists from around the world have converged on the mine, hoping to capture the first images of the miners at the surface.

"The media will oppress them. Many of them will be bombarded with television deals, and could even make a career of it. But that will last several months," said Rene Rios, a sociologist from the Catholic University.

Psychologist Chia said the miners would soon realize the limits of celebrity and hopefully the importance of capitalizing on their experience.

An ordeal like this "can make you stronger or weaker, but will never leave you the same," Chia said.

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Photo story:
Seeing light again

MySinchew 2010.10.13

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