Mental Health and Travel
Travel represents an opportunity for rest and relaxation or a chance for exciting exploration of other countries and cultures. However travel can also be very stressful, not just in the planning stages but also during the journey itself and adapting to a new environment on arrival. Consideration of your mental wellbeing during travel is as important as your physical health.
Mental Health Issues in Travellers
- Are amongst the leading causes of ill health in travellers and are a common reason for medical repatriation.
- May occur in travellers with no pre-existing history and in those with a current/previous history of mental illness.
Attitudes to mental illness vary between countries and in many, severe stigma and discrimination exist. Access to mental health services and medication may be very limited at some destinations.
- Travellers must be aware that certain medications, including narcotic and psychotropics are restricted or banned in some countries – see Travelling with Medicines.
- Due to restrictions on medications in other countries, it may be difficult to replace lost or stolen medication whilst travelling.
A wide range of factors have been suggested to disrupt stable mental health during travel.
- Separation from family and friends.
- Time zone changes and jet lag/sleep deprivation.
- Disruption of normal routines and travel delays.
- Unfamiliar surroundings and presence of strangers.
- Culture Shock and sense of isolation.
- Language barriers.
- Use of drugs and alcohol.
- Physical ill health during travel.
- Forgetting to take medication regularly.
- Type of travel; some forms have a higher risk e.g. business, family events (wedding/funeral) and volunteer/aid work.
A current or previous history of mental health problems, minor or severe is not a barrier to travel. When planning a trip be aware of the following points:
- Recognise that travelling can be stressful.
- Ensure journeys are well thought out and develop contingency plans for coping with delays
- If fear of flying is a major cause of anxiety, several airlines run courses to combat this.
- Research your destination, country and language so you know what to expect.
- Find out how to access medical facilities, including mental health services during travel.
- Take out adequate travel insurance which specifically covers mental health issues.
Ensure you have enough of your regular medication is available for the total duration of the trip; an additional 1-2 weeks should be carried in case medication is lost or stolen.
- Medication should be carried in hand luggage in original containers, appropriately labelled.
- A doctors letter, or repeat prescription leaflet detailing all medication and dosages should be carried - see Travelling with Medicines.
- If you attend a psychiatrist or community psychiatric nurse, schedule a review with them before your trip
- ask for a physicians letter in the appropriate language detailing diagnosis and medications, in case of contact with medical/psychiatric services during travel.
- Be aware that time zone changes and jet lag can disrupt your mental health - advice on jet lag is available on the Air Travel page.
- Make sure you take your medication at the corrrect time during travel.
- Maintaining adequate hydration/calorie intake and avoiding drugs/alcohol during travel will reduce travel stress.
- Maintain a regular routine where possible - this gives you control over your surroundings and helps you remember to take prescribed medicines at the right time
- do not stop your regular medication during travel, even if your mental health has improved - you can always discuss this with your doctor on return.
- Ensure adequate rest, hydration and calorie intake, especially if a busy schedule (i.e. during a business trip or organized tour) is expected.
- Pre-arrange contact via telephone, skype, email with close friends and family at home, especially when travelling alone.
- Avoid excess alcohol and illicit drugs.
- If you feel your mental health is deteriorating, seek help/advice early, either from your travelling companions, family/friends, local mental health services or consulate.
- The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) produce guidance leaflets for travellers with various mental health issues which can be downloaded free from the IAMAT website.
- The Foreign and Commonwealth Office produce a leaflet detailing the assistance they can offer those with a mental health problem during travel. The leaflet can be downloaded free.