Their struggle inspired the world and won the hearts of millions. But that was last year. Now, the 33 Chilean miners who were the focus of the world last year have been all but forgotten.
Many understandably believed that the newfound fame would bring an easier life than the one the miners used to lead. However, many are now living in poverty, unable to find work, and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jonathan Franklin, an investigative journalist who covered the lives of the miners after the dramatic rescue one year ago in his book, 33 Men, spoke with NPR about the new struggles the miners are experiencing these days.
Being launched into the media stratosphere so quickly, Franklin said he expected the miners, who are mostly from rural Chile, to struggle with the experience of fame.
“Fame is very fleeting,” he said. “And you could kind of see this setup where these working-class heroes were dumped into the media treadmill."
"It's also a bit of a schizophrenic existence,” he added. “You know, one day they're in a five-star hotel in Tel Aviv, and then right after that they fly home to Chile, where maybe they don't even have running water.”
But probably more impactful than struggling with sudden fame is the struggle to return to work. Only two have been able to return to the mines. Others have tried, but simply could not do it.
One man, Franklin said, “Started looking at the mouth of the mine, he started crying. And I said to him, 'But Victor, you're out ... you survived.' And he said, 'Yeah, but my happiness is still inside there.'"
Psychological problems have also greatly afflicted the miners. Out of the 33 miners, 32 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Some of them had nightmares, some of them had trouble relating to their children, others were fighting with their wives, one man was building a big wall around his house," Franklin told NPR. "When I speak to these men, they talk about going to the psychiatrist, taking lots and lots of pills, but you get this sense when you talk to them that there's been no collective or group effort to solve these traumas."
Jean Romagnoli, one of the lead doctors in the rescue operation, told Franklin in a recent Washington Post article that the miners were traumatized.
“They are taking uppers, downers, stabilizers,” Romagnoli said. “They don’t understand why they are taking them, but they are fed up with pills. It is not pills they need, but the tools to deal with fame and the tools to renovate themselves.”
The single miner who has not been diagnosed with PTSD and who Franklin says has managed to avoid many of the problems the miners face, is a preacher who credited his religion for helping him cope.
“His unbending faith and his leadership role really seemed to have done him well and he seemed to have skirted a lot of the problems that affected his fellow miners,” Franklin told NPR.
The miners, however, are not just lying down and waiting for things to improve – they are fighting, too. They currently have two lawsuits pending against the mine owners for negligence and another against the government for allowing the mine to operate, besides numerous safety violations.
Despite the struggles many of the miners are experiencing, the media that might have contributed to their ordeal could also be the remedy. The movie rights to their story have recently been sold, and Franklin believes that the sale will provide a much needed economic boost, as well as a psychological one.
"I think that the men need to feel loved again," he told NPR. "They feel abandoned at this point."