An Overview of Travel and Mental Health

1.0 Introduction

This article provides an overview of things one might wish to consider regarding travel and mental health.

Travel, in general, represents an opportunity for rest and relaxation or a chance for exciting exploration of other countries and cultures.

However travel can also be stressful, not just in the planning stages but also during the journey itself and adapting to a new environment on arrival.

Consideration of an individual’s mental wellbeing during travel is as important as their physical health.

2.0 Mental Health Issues to be Aware of When Travelling

Mental health is amongst the leading causes of ill health in travellers and a common reason for medical repatriation.

Mental ill health may occur in travellers with no pre-existing history as well as those with a current/previous history of mental illness.

It is important to note that attitudes to mental illness vary between countries and in many, severe stigma and discrimination exist. Further, access to mental health services and medication may be very limited at some destinations.

Individuals must be aware that some medications, are restricted or banned in some countries and, due to restrictions on medications in other countries, it may be difficult to replace lost or stolen medication whilst travelling.

3.0 What are the Contributory/Risk Factors?

A wide range of factors have been suggested to disrupt stable mental health during travel, including:

  • 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.
    • For example, business, family events (wedding/funeral) and volunteer/aid work.

4.0 What Management Strategies Can I Use?

A current controlled or previous history of mental health problems, is not an absolute barrier to travel. When planning a trip be aware of the following points:

  • Pre-Travel;
  • During Transit; and
  • During the Trip.

4.1 Pre-Travel

  • General:
    • 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 the 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.
  • Medication:
    • Ensure you have enough of your regular medication 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 medical doctor’s letter, or repeat prescription detailing all medication and dosages should be carried.
    • If the individual attends a psychiatrist or community psychiatric nurse, schedule a review with them before the trip.
    • Ask for a medical letter in the appropriate language detailing diagnosis and medications, in case of contact with medical/psychiatric services during travel.

4.2 During Transit

  • Be aware that time zone changes and jet lag can disrupt mental health.
  • Make sure to take medication at the correct time during travel.
  • Maintaining adequate hydration/calorie intake and avoiding drugs/alcohol during travel will reduce travel stress.

4.3 During the Trip

  • 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.
  • Individuals should not stop their regular medication during travel, even if their mental health has improved – they can always discuss this with their doctor on return.
  • Ensure adequate rest, hydration and calorie intake, especially if a busy schedule is expected, for example, during a business trip or organised tour.
  • Pre-arrange contact – via telephone, skype, and/or email – with close friends and family at home, especially when travelling alone.
  • Avoid excess alcohol and illicit drugs.
  • If the individual feels their mental health is deteriorating, seek help/advice early, either from a travelling companions, family/friends, local mental health services or consulate.

5.0 Useful Links

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