Feeling like survivors will be key to rescued Thai boys' emotional well-being: psychologist
The boys who were rescued after spending two weeks inside a flooded cave system in Thailand could initially struggle with their emotions and the symptoms of acute stress disorder, says an Ottawa child psychologist.
“You’ve gone through something traumatic and your emotions are high and you’re experiencing all sorts of different things, usually flashbacks and nightmares, emotional ability, tearfulness, sometimes regression,” Jennifer Vriend told CTV News Channel Monday.
“All of those things we expect are probably going to occur.”
It’s important to allow the boys to experience and express the emotions they feel, but if those symptoms persist for a long period of time or crop up down the road, it would require more support from mental health professionals, said Vriend.
She said reports that the soccer team’s coach led the boys in prayer, meditation and mindfulness exercises bode well.
“And even the way the boys start to frame it, feeling more like survivors as opposed to victims is going to be so important in their recovery,” she said.
“As they move through that recovery process, the more empowered they feel about this situation, the more they feel like they’ve been tough and strong and determined and they’ve got through something difficult and they can handle anything in life at this point, the better their recovery results will likely be.”
Eight of the 12 boys have been rescued, leaving four boys and the coach remaining to be taken out.
The team got stranded inside the flooded cave system on June 23 and was located on July 2. Divers began leading the boys out Sunday through a dark, narrow, twisting four-kilometre passage and had rescued eight by the end of operations Monday. The rescue operation is expected to begin again Tuesday.
As part of the rescue plan, public health officials have determined the boys will spend a day or two in isolation in hospital before they can see their families. It’s expected those rescued will then spend another five to seven days being monitored in hospital.
Dr. Paul Auerbach, a professor of emergency medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said the boys would be assessed for their state of hydration and nutrition, any injuries or illnesses, as well as their emotional well-being.
He said long-term exposure to the spores that are frequently found in caves can lead to a fungal infection called histoplasmosis and frequently referred to as “cave disease.” It’s commonly carried in bat droppings and can bring chills, headaches, and muscle aches.
“In a person with a normal immune system, histoplasmosis usually occurs and the patient never knows that they have it. Because they may get a bit of a fever or a bit of a cough and it seems like a viral illness and it just passes.”
In people with a suppressed immune system, it can be a much more serious illness, he told CTV News Channel Sunday.
He said he expects the boys and their rescuers will be extremely fatigued and that doctors will keep a close watch on them for any issues.
“I think that the joy will carry them quite a way. They’ve been incredibly resilient from the get-go and I expect great things for both the boys and rescuers.”