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We Can Learn Some Things About Mental Health From Astronauts

For almost a year, Christina Koch had been living in the International Space Station. For 328 days, the forty-one-year old astronaut had been busy with hundreds of science experiments and six spacewalks (which makes her very lucky, as only some astronauts are allowed to go outside the spacecraft). After a long time in space, Koch then thought about her next goal, and that is to walk on the beach once she touched back down on Earth. Finally, in February, Koch touched down on Earth safe and sound. There was one thing that would keep her from achieving her goal — the Earth’s gravity.

Astronauts often struggle with even the most routine physical activities, including walking, after experiencing the weightlessness of space. Some have returned from much shorter sojourns than Koch’s feeling so physically weak they collapsed during press conferences. Some have also struggled to ease back into everyday life after the thrill of a space mission. To improve the transition, every astronaut follows a tailored rehabilitation program when they return; in Koch’s case, that probably involved sixty days of training—split between NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in Houston, and her home—to readjust to Earth’s gravity.

Koch’s coach knew that her desire to go to the beach would boost her mental health, and this would get her through the first days of exercises.

A week after landing, Koch tweeted a picture of herself standing on a beach, arms outstretched in triumph.

In other words, her coach knew a thing or two about mental health and how to keep her mind healthy.

In many ways, space can be just as hard on the mind as it is on the body. For astronauts, the isolation, the confinement, and, at times, the uncertainty of space travel can be crushing even though they often spend years preparing for their missions. And, as researchers continue to establish mental health supports for spacebound crews and study travellers who have returned, they’re finding that there’s still much to learn about the long-term psychological effects of these journeys.

More details about this over at The Walrus.

(Image Credit: NASA/ Wikimedia Commons)

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