Mental health has long been shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding. Thankfully, after a long struggle, it is now a topic that people are starting to speak more openly about, meaning that people can finally start to deal properly with the illnesses that affect one in five American adults in any given year.
Like any kind of health condition, mental illness has an impact on our ability to do our favourite things, and that includes travel. You sometimes hear travel being spoken about as some kind of cure-all for anyone dealing with things like anxiety or depression – all they need is to ‘take a break from it all’, and after a holiday they will be just fine again.
But it is that kind of casual, almost dismissive attitude to mental health that all of us should be moving past. No doubt travel can be good for mental well-being – if done right. You also have to take into consideration that travel can, at times, be stressful, it takes you out of your normal routines and away from your support network.
Travelling with a mental health condition, therefore, requires thought and planning – simply heading off into the great blue yonder expecting to miraculously feel better is a recipe for disaster. Here are some important tips for looking after yourself while you are travelling.
Consult your doctor
If you have a diagnosis for any kind of mental health condition, be it depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, the first rule of travelling is to always, always consult your doctor about your plans. There are several reasons why you should do this, including getting their advice on whether you are in a fit state of health to be making the trip, getting a prescription for any medication you need to take with you, and also talking about what you can do to control symptoms while you are away.
It’s also a good idea to ask your doctor how you can contact them while you are abroad. Sometimes, just knowing you have that support just a Skype call away can help to control anxiety levels.
Take your time
Travel can be stressful, and for anyone already coping with mental health issues, that added emotional burden can be like throwing petrol on a fire.
There is even a theory that mental illnesses upset the body’s natural circadian rhythms, so sufferers are especially prone to jet lag and insomnia when they travel, which in turn can trigger acute paranoia and even psychosis. The way to counter this is either to avoid long-haul travel or, if you do intend to travel long distances, take your time.
Ideally, break up the journey into two or three parts, with overnight stop-offs (or longer) along the way. If that is not practical and you have to do your trip all in one go, schedule in a period of rest when you arrive – 24 hours minimum of doing nothing but letting your body and mind adjust to your new surroundings.
Finally, you need to head off on your trip with an open mind about the possibility you could experience a sudden deterioration in your symptoms, and that you could consequently need medical assistance. Getting medical care abroad means you are going to have to pay for it.
You need travel insurance, and moreover, you need to be sure that it covers you for your condition.
Standard travel insurance policies are only designed to pay out for things like accident and emergency care and trips to a clinic for generic things like flu or bouts of travel belly. They do not cover specialised care for pre-existing conditions, including mental illness. To learn more about travel insurance for mental illness, find more information here.