The psychological effects of space flight are not yet completely understood. There have been so few astronauts with such little (relative) time in space, that we are left extrapolating from similar conditions on Earth, such as in Arctic research stations and on submarines, to try to predict the psychological effects of long-duration space flight. Depression, anxiety, and insomnia are some of the experienced and predicted psychological effects that would stem from the enormous pressure placed on the crew, amplified by environmental factors. In space, changing light patterns, constant noise, and the novelty of a new environment can leave astronauts sleep-deprived. Also, being isolated in close quarters can have a negative effect on some astronauts. Interpersonal conflict becomes harder to deal with as feuding individuals cannot take time to cool down or avoid each other, as they must continue to work together for the sake of the mission. Psychological stress has led to more than a few mission terminations.
The best way to avoid issues in space appears to be the identification of risk factors before the mission, and subsequent analysis and response to these factors. Space companies try to not hire individuals with issues to begin with, and put applicants through a series of psychological tests and profiles as part of the interview process. By screening out those individuals with major psychological issues (e.g., anxiety disorders), major conflicts or episodes in space can be avoided. Also, by screening in those who have the correct balance of qualities (e.g., individual work-ethic vs. collaboration), researchers can create more cohesive teams. Simulations such as the “field test” can help researchers assess each member and produce effective groups for certain missions.
For those who get approved to go into space, training plays a huge role in their preparation. First, all members are trained to recognize depression and asthenia (which has similar symptoms as depression). Such illnesses can lead to mistakes and poor-performance levels, and must be diagnosed and treated properly. Also, members of a group are trained in techniques of conflict resolution, and exposed to environments similar to those of spaceflight (e.g., isolation chambers) before their launch. A lot of training goes into making sure that teams can work together properly. If this training fails, though, drugs are available on board for treatment and self-assessment; training and problem-solving tools also are available to help assess and diffuse adverse situations.
Personalized medicine is the latest addition to countermeasures that address psychological issues arising in space During a mission, the monitoring of individual cognitive function, body mass, and sleep performance can aid the creation of a personalized countermeasure should an issue arise, using on-board resources. Data is also collected prior to the mission, allowing for individualized medical choices to be made effectively. For instance, through testing, drug metabolism profiles can be produced to predict which drugs will be most effective for each individual (see Personalized Drugs/Testing). The best way to ensure a personalized approach is through the collection of individual data, a process which gives medical staff the optimum amount of information to utilize in decision making.