Mental health, physical symptoms and biomarkers of stress during prolonged exposure to Antarctica’s extreme environment

Candice A. Alfano (Lead Author), Joanne L. Bower, Christopher Connaboy, Nadia H. Agha, Forrest L. Baker, Kyle A. Smith, Christine J. So, Richard J. Simpson

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The Antarctic environment is characterized by many of the same extreme stressors as long-duration space flight (LDSE), thereby providing a useful earth-based analog for examining changes in and predictors of mental health over time. At coastal (n = 88) and inland (n = 22) Antarctic stations we tracked mental health symptoms across a nine-month period including winter-over using the Mental Health Checklist (MHCL; Bower et al., 2019). Our monthly assessment battery also examined changes in physical complaints, biomarkers of stress, and the use of different emotion regulation strategies. MHCL positive adaptation scores showed linear decreases whereas MHCL poor self-regulation scores and severity of physical symptoms increased across the study period. During-mission use of emotion regulation strategies and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) levels predicted end-of-study MHCL scores, whereas trait-based psychological measures collected at the start of the mission showed little predictive utility. Results suggest that interventions and counter measures aimed at enhancing positive affect/emotion during prolonged exposure to extreme environments may be useful in reducing psychological risk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-413
Number of pages9
JournalActa Astronautica
Early online date2 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Antarctica
  • Emotion regulation
  • Mental health
  • Physical symptoms
  • Space flight

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