The impact the Thai cave rescue has on trapped kids' brains

  • 09/07/2018

After the successful rescue of four boys on Sunday (local time), divers have again entered the Tham Luang cave to try to retrieve the remaining eight boys and their football coach.

To escape the cave, they'll have to wade, crawl and swim the gruelling 1.7km journey through narrow, twisting underwater passageways. Two divers will accompany each child wearing oxygen equipment.

Child psychologist Dr Emma Woodward says the boys will be changed by the experience "without a doubt", but it will affect each of them differently.

"The extent to which each child is affected will be dependent on a number of individual factors and psychosocial factors: their underlying personality, their levels of hope and optimism, their underlying coping strategies and also their access to supportive family and community and specialist treatment services when they're out."

She told The Project that the boys will need to develop trust for the 18 divers who are responsible for their survival.

"These children have been away from their families in a terrible situation for now two weeks," Dr Woodward continued.

"They're going to have to be able to place a huge amount of trust in these people to rescue them and keep them safe until they see their families again."

Dr Woodward says the rescue divers need to "access their inner parent - get down on [the boys'] level and explain the practicalities of the process and keep them feeling safe".

"The children are going to be looking very much to the adults who are responsible for their safety for cues about their safety, so they need to be reassuring and calm themselves."

She explains that while the boys have been working on getting as physically fit as they can for the long rescue journey, they also need to focus on "psychological and mental fitness".

The 'big four' of mental resilience is a technique used by the Navy SEALs so Dr Woodward expects the rescue team to use it to help the boys.

Goal-setting is one of the steps, so rescuers need to make sure the children are very clear on the process of getting them out safely.

She says arousal control is also important, which means managing the children's physiological reactions to stress through breathing exercises.

The boys should also be encouraged to visualise the safety they're so close to reaching.

"Teenagers have different brains to adults, and children again have different brains to teenagers, so there'll be an impact on the way their cognitive and emotional development and their previous life experience will have an impact on how they process the experience.

"There'll be a difference in their expression of their stress and trauma too."