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For many people, travelling is a way to relax and enjoy a break from everyday life. However, for those suffering from mental health issues, travelling can be rather daunting, and certain mental illness may be exacerbated by the stresses associated with travel.

While mental health was once seen as taboo and rarely discussed, today we’ve started to talk about it. We’re recognizing these sometimes debilitating issues so we might offer support and treatment to those in need.

Because mental illness doesn’t go away just because you’re traveling. And having an episode while overseas can be much more distressing than when you experience them at home.

One in four people suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives, so it’s vital that these issues are addressed. But sadly, the majority of people are still not receiving adequate treatment, whether it’s due to feeling ashamed of their issues or simply not having the means.

If you’re suffering from a mental health condition, it doesn’t mean that you can’t travel the world, but it may mean you have to do a bit more planning to manage your health.

This article will discuss how you can seek help abroad, so that your mental health illness doesn’t prevent you from travelling. It will also detail ways you can help others suffering from mental health issues.

How to Seek Counseling When You’re Traveling Abroad

Planning for Mental Health & Travel

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It’s important to remember that mental health issues don’t discriminate and can affect anyone. Even if you’ve never experienced a mental health episode before, it’s worth researching how to treat them in case travel manages to trigger something within you, or in case someone you’re travelling with has an episode.

Whether you’re planning on moving abroad or taking a short weekend getaway, knowing how to deal with your mental health will go a long way to making sure you don’t miss out on any experiences. And planning is especially important when visiting foreign countries.

While your home country may show compassion for mental health and provide readily available support for your issues, other countries may lack knowledge or empathy to help you deal with certain mental health illnesses you may experience.

It’s important to research what mental health treatment is available in the country you will be visiting, whether or not your current medications will be allowed in the country, if your travel insurance will cover treatment for mental health issues that arise during your trip, and what treatment options will be available.

Failure to do your research could mean not receiving the treatment you require to manage your mental health issue and possibly facing criminal charges that may arise from certain mental health episodes.

And it’s important to remember that mental health not only affects those suffering, but can also have an effect on those around them. As such, knowing how to recognize the signs of mental illness and learning ways to treat it while travelling is vital for even non sufferers.

Common Mental Health Conditions and Their Triggers

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Being that there are so many recognized mental health illnesses, it’s not uncommon for you to find yourself travelling with one.

If you’re lucky enough to not be suffering from one, then someone you are travelling might be. These are just some of the mental health illnesses that travel can trigger or make worse:

Common Mental Health Conditions and their Triggers

➤ Anxiety

➤ PTSD

➤ Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia

➤ Panic attacks

➤ Depression

➤ Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

➤ Drug Abuse

➤ Personality disorder

The reason many of these illnesses are triggered or made worse by travel is because you often face many unknowns and unfamiliarities while travelling. A combination of new foreign surroundings, getting lost, and not understanding the local language can be a struggle for many people.

Travelling solo can leave people with feelings of depression from not having a support network of friends and family close, and being that the nature of travel makes you face a number of situations beyond your control, this can often make things worse for those suffering from OCD who often require perfect order and symmetry.

Obsessive compulsive disorder can kick into overdrive from the moment you start your trip. Whether it’s constantly checking to make sure you packed everything or double checking a thousand times that you locked all the doors before leaving home, OCD can trigger massive amounts of anxiety.

Those with a fear of flying may experience panic attacks, being around new exotic foods may have you eating a lot but then feeling guilty, leading to a resurgence of an eating disorder. And those trying to get through their travel may relapse back into bad habits.

While it may be easy to manage your mental health issues when you’re in your normal routine back home, traveling often forces this routine out the window and you must find other ways to cope.

Ways to Treat Your Mental Health Illness While Traveling

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Now that we’ve covered the mental illnesses and triggers you may face while travelling, let’s now talk about ways you can help manage your issues.

The main thing is to remember that you’re not alone. Millions of other travelers are going through the same thing, and there are ways to help.

Before Your Trip

As discussed, we recommend researching what treatment options are available in the country you are visiting before you travel. And it’s also very important to make sure your current medications are legal in that country.

You may want to consult with your doctor or therapist to see whether they advise travelling is a good idea for you before you commit to any bookings.

Travelling with a close friend or family member will go a long way in making you feel more comfortable travelling with your mental health illness. If this is not possible, try to arrange times each day where you can at least communicate with someone close to you.

You may also want to learn a bit of the local language and customs so they are not as foreign and intimidating when you get there. Positive thinking can also be extremely helpful. Imagine your travels going smoothly and you’re more apt to perceive them that way.

Keep in Contact With Your Regular Therapist

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Just because you’re planning to travel doesn’t mean you have to leave your regular therapist behind.

I’m not saying you should but them a plane ticket to accompany you, rather you may be able to plan and pre-pay for sessions with your therapist that can be carried out over the phone.

Talk with your therapist about when they may be available should a mental health emergency arise. Be sure to book an appointment before your trip so your therapist can prescribe you enough medication to get you through.

They can also provide you with documentation of your mental health history and help you locate access to help abroad. For any medications you do plan to take, carry a copy of your prescription with you that details what the medication is, how much you are required to take, and that it will be solely for your own personal use.

Seek the Help of an Online Counselor

Thanks to technology, you can now receive treatment for your mental health issues easily online through online counseling. There are numerous online resources for finding treatment while abroad and this treatment can often be accessed 24/7.

Whether sessions with an online counselor or therapist take place over Skype or some other online platform, getting face to face treatment in this way can be just as effective as meeting with a therapist in person.

Online counseling is especially helpful in instances where you experience a mental health issue for the first time while traveling and don’t currently have a regular therapist that is already assisting you.

Note: You need to make sure you are receiving counseling from a reputable site with licensed therapists. That said, most sites require therapists to have a Master’s degree in their related field of specialty, and to have accumulated thousands of hours of clinical practice in their field before being allowed to treat patients online.

Becoming an Online Counselor Yourself

If you have previous experience as a counselor or with psychotherapy, you may want to think about becoming an online therapist yourself. The flexibility of online counseling jobs is appealing to therapists who wish to travel and not necessarily want to be attached to an office all the time.

Becoming an online counselor allows you to continue making money while travelling, allowing you to possibly extend your travels or plan trips away from the office more frequently. It can also be helpful for new expats who are in need of an income but haven’t yet been able to start up their practice.

The flexibility of offering therapy online means you can set the hours that work for you and earn nearly as much as you wish. Accept clients at your discretion and know that you can continue to help improve other people’s lives even while on a beach in Tahiti.

Find a Local Counselor or Doctor

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You may be able to find an effective international counselor in the country you are visiting. This is made easier of you are visiting a country that speaks the same language as you.

Some countries are similar, meaning if you’re an American visiting Canada for example, you may be able to receive similar treatment. Though keep in mind that your health insurance is unlikely to cover you for treatment overseas.

If you think you’ll need to seek treatment from a local doctor abroad, try to seek out a travel insurance policy which offers coverage for mental health illnesses, or find out if there is a reciprocal health agreement in place between your home country and the country you are visiting.

If you’re unable to receive the medication you need from an unsympathetic international therapist, you may want to try visiting a doctor, as they may be more inclined (in some cases) to write you a prescription.

Stay Connected to Friends and Family

The main core of your support network is often your friends and family. Many people suffering from mental illness may not be comfortable seeking treatment from a professional but will often discuss their issues with family and friends.

While seeking non-professional advice for serious mental health issues is not advised, family and friends may be just what you need to help talk you through minor issues. Your family and friends know you best and will most often make all the time in the world to help support you.

Best of all is that their advice and support is free of charge!

Hopefully anyway!!!

If you know you suffer from mental illness and plan to travel alone, be sure to arrange times to check in with your family or close friends. Talking with them can prevent mental health issues from progressing into severely debilitating experiences.

They can also help you find help if they are unable to talk you through things.

Join a Support Group

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Don’t be afraid to integrate yourself into the local community when travelling. Gaining new friends and even seeking out support groups dealing with your specific mental illness can be achieved in many countries around the world. This is of course much easier when you share a common language and similar culture.

If you’re shy or don’t think you will be able to meet a support group in the country you are visiting, joining an online forum can be a great option. Through forums, you can easily connect with many people suffering from the same mental issues you are dealing with.

In some cases, thousands of people help each other get through their various illnesses and you can connect with real life cases where people know exactly what you are going through. Once again, we recommend professional help for severely debilitating illnesses, but a support group can assist with minor issues.

Quickly integrating into a support group is vital for mental health illness sufferers who are thinking of becoming expats in a new country.

Help Yourself

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Of course, there will be many times along the way that you’ll need rely on yourself to get you through a mental health episode. Often it’s your own mind which can best treat you, despite your mind being the cause of your issue.

The mind is a powerful thing. The same power that is causing you to suffer from a mental illness can often also be harnessed to effectively treat or rid you of it (depending on your specific illness).

When travelling, it is important to make your travel plans as uncomplicated and least stressful as possible. This means not trying to overload your itinerary or waiting until the last minute to book tickets and accommodation.

Reducing potential stress will help you avoid certain mental health issues from being triggered.

Some mental health issues can be kept at bay by remaining active or exercising. Make use of your hotel gym area, practice yoga while traveling, or have a run around a local park to distract your mind when unhealthy thoughts creep in.

Alternatively, you may want to think about packing a journal so you can write down your travel experiences and put your thoughts on paper. Seeing your own thoughts in writing can help you determine if they are rational or not.


Stick To Your Normal Routine

Travel can make it difficult to stick with your normal routine, which is something that many mental health sufferers rely on to help them manage their illness. So try to incorporate as many aspects of your normal routine as possible.

That means waking up and going to bed at your normal times and eating meals at the same time you normally would back home. There may be a lot about travel you can’t control, but having a few things you can control can go a long way to making you believe you have some sense of direction.

The most important thing to remember is to not isolate yourself when you are experiencing a mental health episode while traveling. Share your feelings with others around you whether they be fellow travel mates or others staying in the same hostel as you.

Don’t try to pretend your mental illness doesn’t exist, as this may only postpone an episode which may become much worse than if it were treated at an earlier stage.

Remember to stay well nourished and hydrated. Keeping your body and mind healthy will allow you to better deal with your mental health issues. Avoid resorting to alcohol or drugs to mask your issues while travelling as this could lead you to do regretful things that may be embarrassing or illegal.

Ending up in a foreign prison is the last place you want to be if you have a mental illness.

Try Apps Designed for Treating Mental Illness

Apps that work with inflight wifi phone plane

Another effective alternative for when you can’t afford therapy is to download a mental health app. Smartphone users now have a wide array of mental health apps to choose from which specialize in illnesses such as anxiety, depression, suicide prevention, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and OCD.

Many of these helpful apps are free to download while others may only be a few dollars. Literally within minutes, you can download an app and have numerous techniques and other advice at your disposal to treat your mental health issues.

Simply plug in your headphones and nobody will know you are receiving treatment while in-flight or sitting in the airport. Using mental health apps are discrete and a great way to calm your nerves or put you in the right head space.

You should not rely on apps if your issues are more serious, and seek professional medical help immediately once you land in your next destination.

Help from Consular Services

Your government may be able to offer you assistance as well while travelling abroad. Many countries offer a 24-hour consular emergency centre where you can access consular services.

Contacting them can help you find local mental health practitioners that speak your language and help connect foreign doctors with your regular doctors back home.

They can also help you get prescribed medication locally and contact your family if you wish.

Be a Responsible Traveler and Help Others in Need

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If you’re blessed with good mental health, make a point to help other travelers who may not be as fortunate. Learn to recognize the symptoms of someone suffering from a mental illness episode and offer them advice on how to they may get help.

It is important that you should never offer advice you are not qualified to give, but pointing someone in the right direction of a therapist, doctor or counselor is totally fine, and the simple act of asking someone if they’re ok, and being willing to listen could go a long way.

It pays to remember H.E.A.R.T when trying to assist others with mental illness whether they are someone in your travelling group or complete strangers you meet along the way. H.E.A.R.T is an acronym for Hear, Empathize, Assess, Refer, and Tell.

Hear: Take time to listen to someone suffering from a mental health episode. Don’t judge or try to problem solve, just show that you are listening.

Empathize: Let someone know you understand and respect what they are going through. Show interest and don’t express judgment, realizing that the issue at hand may be extremely important to the sufferer regardless of whether in reality that is the case.

Assess: Ask the sufferer what they plan to do about their issue. Discuss with them their potential options for receiving treatment.

Refer: Do your best to get the sufferer the appropriate treatment. Don’t try to solve the problem if you are not licensed or capable to. Do not agree to keep the issue a secret even if the sufferer asks you to and let them know they should really seek treatment.

Tell: Promptly seek the appropriate professional help if you believe it is warranted. This is especially important when sufferers discuss with you thoughts of suicide or harming others.

If you’re suffering from a mental health condition, it doesn’t mean that you can’t travel the world, but it may mean you have to do a bit more planning to manage your health.

What has been your experience traveling the world while managing your mental health?

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

    

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