Researchers investigated the mental health risks of astronauts in extreme environments

The study was published online on April 20th, 2021.

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As published in the peer-reviewed journal Acta Astronautica, a group of researchers at the University of Houston investigated the mental health effects of astronauts when in extreme environments.

In the study, researchers were able to show how astronauts faced negative emotions and stressors common in extreme conditions, like that experienced among populants of the international research stations.

To assess the psychological state of the astronauts, researchers constructed a Mental Health Checklist (MHCL), capable of establishing if any mental health changes were evident when isolated, especially within extreme environments.

Common stressors astronauts encounter in extreme environments are alienation, altered light-dark cycles, little to no privacy, and being distant from familial figures.

According to the findings, the participants who were investigated had experienced increased negative emotions, along with complaints of other mental health problems.

In short: The study unveiled that the participants utilized fewer strategies to cope with the negative effects of space exploration in extreme conditions, thus, inhibiting proper regulation of positive emotions.

“We observed significant changes in psychological functioning, but patterns of change for specific aspects of mental health differed. The most marked alterations were observed for positive emotions such that we saw continuous declines from the start to the end of the mission, without evidence of a ‘bounce-back effect’ as participants were preparing to return home,” said one of the study’s authors in a news release.

“Previous research both in space and in polar environments has focused almost exclusively on negative emotional states including anxiety and depressive symptoms. But positive emotions such as satisfaction, enthusiasm and awe are essential features for thriving in high-pressure settings.”

The study was published online on April 20th, 2021.

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