October 13th 2010.
If the miners’ rescue goes ahead safely and the 33 men are brought to the surface in the next 24 hours, they’ll be in need of tranquillity and space to readjust to life above ground.
It’s a fair bet there’ll be numerous different responses among the rescued men. Hardier characters may readjust fairly rapidly with great gusto for life above ground. More fragile individuals may struggle to adjust.
One of the big problems will be that the men will not be emerging to deal with normality – that is, they won’t be returning to anything remotely like their lives before the mine collapsed.
The chances of them readjusting at their own pace, quietly, with gentle reassurance from their friends and family is practically nil.
They’re returning to the glare of a global media circus, a tough legal battle and a corporate world ready to devour their stories and turn them into books, TV dramas and films.
On top of that they face being treated like lab specimens by the medical and psychiatric communities. The Chilean government seems to have cared well for the miners during their undergound ordeal. Their physical, mental and emotional health was monitored and supported.
There is a danger however that, once free, the men are going to be turned into objects of inquiry and research – and that’s not necessarily going to help them recover from captivity.
News agency Reuters reports that John Fairbank, a psychiatry professor at Duke University, has said the miners should be studied for signs of psychological trauma long after the rescue.
Psychiatrists and academic researchers are interested in the miners’ responses because they have, unwillingly, set a record for being trapped underground. After such a long ordeal, how soon will they recover? How well will they recover? Will they suffer from post-traumatic syndrome?
While researchers will understandably be interested in the men’s progress, there is a risk that monitoring, studying and investigating the men’s responses could in itself be damaging. These are men, not lab mice.
The research mindset was very evident in one of Fairbank’s statements.
“These miners” he said “have a lot to teach us about resilience and recovery.”
In fact, those miners have no obligation whatever to teach Fairbanks or anyone else about resilience and recovery, fascinating as both those topics may be – and curious as the world’s researchers may be.
The miners will have much to contend with in the months ahead. The life-changing nature of what they’ve suffered is still unfolding. No-one should demand that they subject themselves to academic inquiry. They have every right to view their recovery and the task of rebuilding their lives and relationships as their sole priority if they so choose.