Dr James Thompson: Being part of a group will help them

Psychologist's view: The prospect of having to wait so long to be rescued will put themunder an enormous amount of stress

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T he miners have had a very bad 18 days but there are mitigating factors which will help them survive over the coming weeks and months. Firstly, they're all in a group, and that allows group dynamics and support to come in. I would expect some natural leaders to emerge and the group can use its resources to maintain individuals as they experience tremendous difficulties.

As far as we know the probe is not very substantial, but it will allow some supplies to be brought in and that is going to be an enormous morale booster. There are two things that this hole has to provide. The first is practical assistance – food, water, medicine, blankets and so on. But it also has to provide psychological support, and the best way to do this is by having lots of interaction between the miners, those trying to reach them and their families.

Another thing which is positive is that these are people who, as far as I know, are inured to this sort of work. Miners are often from close-knit communities and they are used to the conditions that come with working under ground.

But the prospect of having to wait such a long time to be rescued will inevitably put them under an enormous amount of stress. All animals, including humans, are built to withstand stress. Where stress can become intolerable is when it seems endless. The reason why so many people survive car crashes in psychological terms is that most car crashes are very quickly over. You know what the outcome is within 12 or 15 seconds. The ones where you're trapped and it's an hour or two before emergency workers release you – those are far more damaging.

The miners will have experienced enormous shock as the initial event (the collapse of the tunnel) occurred and that would have been horrific. They will all have gone through their own personal hell. The sounds of the drilling and the eventual breakthrough will have been an enormous boost. However, they also need to be prepared for the fact that at times those hopes are going to be disappointed, because I'm sure there will be setbacks.

The writer is a senior psychology lecturer at University College London

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