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Rescued Miners May Be Trapped by Psychological Issues

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(COPIAPO, Chile) -- Amid cheers, celebration and a throng of loved ones, officials and media, the 33 Chilean miners emerged, one by one, from the ground.

But once the jubilation is over, experts say the men may have to confront a number of medical and psychological issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The probability they will have PTSD symptoms is very high," said Edna Foa, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "How permanent those symptoms are, or if they're going to develop further, is something we need to wait and see."

After surviving more than two months trapped underground and facing tremendous uncertainty, including the prospect that they could have died, experts say the miners may now suffer a number of symptoms related to PTSD and other psychological issues.  How they respond to them depends on each miner's individual psyche as well as the amount of support they get from mental health professionals, their families and the community.

"Some may have depression, anxiety or phobic symptoms, some may socially withdraw, some may become hypervigilant and some may have traumatic reminders of the event," said Dr. Jon Shaw, professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

For those that do suffer from PTSD, those symptoms will emerge later, usually within a few weeks.

"There may be severe psychological distress, including cognitive symptoms such as loss, a sense of confusion, concentration problems, a sense of disorientation, nightmares, dreams, a loss of appetite," said Neal Walker, a clinical psychologist with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a U.S. government agency. "There may also be behavioral symptoms, such as anxiety, irritability, insomnia, they may cry easily, and some men will try to make fun of their experience -- 'gallows humor,'" said Walker.

Shaw said their body clocks will likely have trouble readjusting after months in darkness.  "They will have trouble with the sleep-wake cycle, their Circadian rhythms," he said.

A spokesman for the hospital in Copiapo, where some of the miners are being treated for a number of heath conditions, said the miners haven't slept yet because they are overjoyed and want to spend time with their families.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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