As travel to Mars becomes more real, scientists are trying to predict how they will affect health, including mental health. In search of an answer, psychologists turn to the experience of polar explorers, since the extreme environment of Antarctica is in many ways similar to space. Confined space, isolation, monotony of existence, lack of solitude and altered cycles of day and night - these are the conditions in which polar explorers now have to live, and in the future will have to participants on missions to Mars.
Researchers at the University of Houston studied the mental health of researchers at two research stations located in Antarctica. Writes about this Daily Mail. Psychologists developed a questionnaire that allowed them to analyze changes in mental health, and they monitored the condition of the polar explorers for nine months. The participants also monitored their physical well-being and measured cortisol and other stress hormones.
It turned out that the psychological state of the polar explorers changed markedly. The most obvious was the continuous decline in positive emotions. It was observed from the beginning to the end of the mission, and even in anticipation of an early return home, the polar explorers did not feel the "rebound effect". In addition, the researchers showed increased anxiety and symptoms of depression, which were often accompanied by complaints of physical ailments. As the work approached the end, the polar explorers made less and less effort to somehow improve their emotional background.
Scientists have long expressed concern about the consequences of prolonged space flights. In addition to isolation and boredom, the astronauts are threatened with sleep disturbances: there are 16 sunrises and sunsets on the ISS during the day. Radiation can also affect the psyche, which also threatens radiation sickness. Another risk factor is weightlessness. Due to the lack of gravity, blood flows to the brain more actively, increasing intracranial pressure, increasing the volume of the brain and contracting the pituitary gland - the cerebral appendage that produces hormones that affect growth, metabolism and reproductive function.
The research is published in the journal Acta Astronautica.