We were all gripped by the plight of the Thai Wild Boars football team and coach trapped underground and there has been a lot of discussion in the media about the impact of their experience. Psychologists have been drawn into that, and I want to add a few thoughts of my own.
As with all exceptional experiences there are at least two different levels. There is the basic biological level arising from loss of daylight (and the associated body rhythms), loss of sleep, exercise, food, water, etc. The impact of those factors is potentially serious, though practical steps can be taken to minimise the disruption. For example you can use your watch to stick to a daily routine, even without daylight.
However, the impact of these factors will be massively affected by how the youngsters interpreted their situation. The interaction of biological and interpretative factors seems very pervasive. Pain, for example, is partly determined by basic factors such as tissue damage; but that is massively affected by what sense people make of their pain. Tissue damage is less important than in determining pain than used to be supposed; interpretative factors are more important. I could make similar points about emotional experience, religious experience and much else. Biological factors are significant, but their impact is massively affected how things are interpreted.
For the Thai team and coach, the most important factor affecting their situation would be how they assessed the danger they were in, and their chances of escape. Their situation was in fact very serious; realising that could have added massively to their stress levels. Some of them would have had better stress management skills than others; and the older of the youngsters and coach might tend to cope a bit better.
It would have significantly helped being discovered. That significantly increased their prospects of escape, and would have been very helpful. They had more human contact, including contact with their rescuers and, through notes, with their families. Being found did not make rescue certain, but it changed it from being unlikely to likely, and that would have been very helpful. I assume that the rescuers were careful in what they said about the risks associated with escape.
Still, even now they are thankfully out of the cave and recovering, they have been through a very traumatic experience. That will have the same potential effects as any trauma would. We now know a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder, with the risk of nightmares about being trapped in a cave, and perhaps dying there. There is a real danger that they will be affected for life by their trauma.
But there is also post-traumatic growth. Going through a trauma can lead people to dig deep and find resources within themselves to cope. That can result in their growing as people, finding greater depth and resilience. Learning to cope with one trauma can give people resources to cope with other kinds of adversity.
Post-traumatic growth often involves taking a spiritual turn. I would expect that if any of the team and coach had experience of something such as yoga or mindfulness, it would help them to cope. Taking up some spiritual practices now might help to limit the potential damage of their traumatic days in the cave. Being trapped in a cave may lead some of the team in a spiritual direction, and they would cope better as a result.