THAI SOCCER TEAM FACES YEARS OF POTENTIAL MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES
The world awoke to the good news last week: All 12 members of the Thai soccer team and their coach who found themselves trapped inside a cave as rainwater levels made it impossible for them to escape on their own were rescued.
All are at a hospital being treated and eventually will be reunited with their families. For some of them, the joy and celebration might be short-lived, as they are now at an increased risk to experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues.
There are three components of this event that could lead to symptoms of PTSD experienced by some members of the soccer team: First, the trauma, mental anguish and deteriorating physical health conditions of the boys is enough to potentially bring on PTSD by itself.
Next, the rescue is another factor that may have traumatized some of the team, many of whom were not strong swimmers and had no prior experience with scuba gear and breathing underwater. Being guided through tiny openings surrounded by sharp rocks is a test even for experienced divers.
The final factor is the aftermath. As the world waits to hear from the boys and the media bombards them with interview requests, they are being thrust into the worldwide spotlight and have become overnight public figures. Each one of these situations on its own is difficult to handle, let alone all three put together.
PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event. It can include symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks and extreme anxiety.
It’s almost impossible to predict which of the boys will experience PTSD as it is unknown why some people who survive a traumatic event may develop it while others who survive the same trauma do not. Our brains are unique in the way each of us interrupt and respond to these types of events, but whether someone develops PTSD depends on: the intensity of the trauma, length of the trauma, degree of personal injury, proximity to the event, individual control of the events and most importantly, the amount of help and support obtained after the trauma.
Symptoms of PTSD can start immediately or after some time has gone by. Typically speaking, if any of the boys are going to show signs of PTSD, it will be within the next six months. Regardless, it will be necessary that all of them are carefully evaluated by a psychiatrist and, furthermore, continue to be monitored very closely for at least the next year and beyond.
We don’t understand why some people develop PTSD in response to trauma while others never do, but it is a very real and serious condition. For perspective, 34 percent of the Oklahoma City bombing survivors developed PTSD, 18.7 percent of Vietnam Veterans suffered PTSD and 7.8 percent of Americans, in general, will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
For the boys on the Thai soccer team or anyone who develops PTSD in response to trauma, getting help is the only way to get better. This includes psychotherapy like cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy, as well as medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and Prazosin, a medication that helps reduce nightmares. This is important not only to reduce symptoms and feel better, but left untreated, PTSD increases the risk of suicide.
The 12 boys and their young coach can go on to lead normal and healthy lives. They will quickly regain their physical strength. Their mental health, however, is fragile right now and needs to be watched carefully.
The good news is: this story has a happy ending. The other good news is that this is another opportunity to remind anyone who has experienced any type of trauma and is silently suffering with PTSD, that help is available.
Dr. Prakash Masand M.D. is a psychiatrist and the founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence.