Evidence shows that roughly between 20-25% of adults will face some degree of mental health issues at some point in their life.
While many of us eagerly await a vacation, those struggling with mental health often feel they may not be capable of traveling. However, the truth is that with effective treatment, those suffering from mental health issues can get back to enjoying taking holidays once again.
Travel can do wonders for our emotional and psychological well-being, but it can also exacerbate certain mental illnesses such as depression, panic disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse, schizophrenia, and OCD.
Thankfully, there is professional help available, and if you’re suffering from a mental illness and would like to prevent it from impacting your travel, I encourage you to learn more about how behavioral therapy from a licensed therapist can help.
In addition to behavioral therapy, which can teach you how to substitute harmful behavioral patterns for healthy ones, aversion therapy which can often treat substance abuse, and system desensitization which has proven effective for treating various phobias, the following are some important things to know when traveling with a mental health disorder.
Important Things You Should Know When Traveling With a Mental Health Disorder
Choice of Travel Destination is Important
Sadly, there are a number of countries that have a tendency to stigmatize and discriminate people suffering from a mental illness. People in some regions view mental illness as a threat to society and treatment or care for mental health disorders may be almost nonexistent.
If you have a mental illness, do your research to make sure you pick a holiday spot where you will be respected and where you can get professional medical help if you require it.
In addition to selecting an accepting nation, certain regions and climates may be better than others depending on your disorder.
Traveling long distances east to west where jet lag will be a problem or visiting places situated at extreme altitudes can potentially make your disorder more severe. Likewise, visiting highly populated cities or regions can trigger social anxiety.
The takeaway is, make sure to do your research and select a travel destination that is least likely to trigger or enhance your mental illness.
Getting Travel Insurance With a Mental Health Disorder
Mental illnesses are most often considered pre-existing medical conditions to travel insurers and their policies don’t usually provide coverage for them.
Some travel insurance companies may provide cover for pre-existing mental illnesses for an additional premium, but you may have to get an up to date assessment of your condition.
Always read your travel insurance policy’s Product Disclosure Statement carefully to see how your mental illness may affect your coverage.
Although you may not be covered for incidents relating to your mental illness, travel insurance will still likely provide coverage for events that are unrelated to your mental illness such as flight cancellations, lost luggage, or requiring overseas medical assistance due to injury or sickness not brought on by your mental health issue.
People with mental health disorders often resort to routines to help them cope with their illness. Travel can often greatly disrupt normal routines, leaving those with mental health issues feeling they cannot control their disorder as well as they normally can.
People suffering from OCD can especially be affected more severely when traveling. They may notice their “checking behaviors” getting worse, can become more worried about germs while flying in planes or using public transport, and may engage in more frequent senseless things to reduce their anxiety while traveling.
It is important for some people with a mental illness to try to stick as closely to their normal routine as possible to help manage their illness. This may include waking up and sleeping at normal hours, eating meals at usual times, and remembering to practice your trusted daily stress-relieving techniques like meditation.
For others, travel may actual improve their OCD or other mental illness, as the change of routine can disrupt the pattern of bad behaviors. You can become so consumed with your new surroundings that you focus more on all the excitement or what needs to be done as opposed to your usual habitual behaviors.
Plan for Your Mental Health Disorder
While travel may indeed actually help some people with certain mental health issues, you need to be realistic about your own specific situation.
If you normally suffer from mental illness on a daily basis and experienced it while traveling in the past, you should expect it to happen while traveling in the future.
The best thing you can do is expect that your mental illness will tag along with you for your trip and make plans that which will allow you to better cope with the illness. Learn to recognize your triggers if you haven’t already and do your best to avoid them while traveling.
For example, if you find that attending music festivals feeds your alcoholism or substance abuse, then avoid these events while traveling. If you suffer from panic attacks in crowded social settings, book a holiday in a quiet town or village as opposed to a big major city.
Travel with Friends or Family
Having the support of loved ones with you while traveling can do wonders for helping you cope with your mental illness.
Those with mental illness can often get lost in their own mind and create their own false reality. Having someone you trust beside you to reassure you what is indeed truth can help you think more rationally.
People with mental health disorders often find it difficult to make connections with strangers while traveling and may not alert others to their condition when they need assistance out of fear of being judged or discriminated against.
Having someone traveling with you who knows, understands, and is sympathetic to your condition will be able to help you get the proper help you need if it is required.
If traveling with a close friend or family member is not an option, at least alert someone close to you that you will be traveling and ask if you could check in with them each day.
This will allow you to feel like you have some kind of support during your trip. Just be sure to look into the ways you will be able to stay in touch whether it be through communicating by call and text or through social media.
You should also make yourself familiar with the contact information of the local embassy or consulate in the foreign country you are visiting in case you require assistance while traveling abroad.
Mental Illness Medication Advice
If you are currently taking medication to manage your mental illness, there are some important things to be aware of.
The first thing you should do before booking a trip is schedule a visit with your therapist or doctor to discuss your travel plans. They will be able to advise you whether or not your travel plans are wise and may offer suggestions on what medications if any you should take with you.
You should be aware that some medications may be restricted or outlawed in some countries. Your doctor or therapist should be able to help you determine if the medication you are taking will cause any issues.
They may also be able to suggest safe alternatives if your current medication is deemed prohibited and can alert you if taking your medication with other medications such as motion-sickness pills or sleeping aids could have serious side effects.
Always make sure to carry your medication in your carry-on luggage and pack an additional one to two weeks extra supply in a separate bag in case you happen to lose medication or you experience travel delays which prevent you from returning home on time.
Medications should be kept in their original containers and clearly marked. Ask your doctor for a written letter describing your diagnosis, the medication you were prescribed, and your doctor’s contact details. You may also want to wear a medical bracelet or keep your medical information in your wallet while traveling in case something happens.
Familiarize yourself with the locations of the local hospitals in your chosen travel destination, local emergency numbers, and the availability of medications.
Emotional Support Animals
A number of travelers with mental health disorders rely on the support of an emotional support animal to help them cope with the stress and anxiety brought on by travel. Some studies show that emotional support animals provide a number of therapeutic benefits for various mental illnesses.
Unlike service animals which are trained to lead the blind or assist those with other physical disabilities to get around, the extent to which an emotional support animal can help is often more difficult to quantify.
There is no doubt that a large number of people have taken advantage of airlines, hotels, and other businesses allowing emotional support animals and bring them along even when they may not truly need them.
Talk with your therapist to discuss if an emotional support animal would indeed be an effective option for you and if so, it may be wise to stick with getting a dog since more and more businesses including airlines are beginning to prohibit non-domesticated animals as emotional support animals.
Being diagnosed with a mental illness may mean you have to seek treatment and take more precautions than the average traveler, but it doesn’t have to prevent you from seeing the world.
Use some of the knowledge and advice offered above along with the help of a behavioral therapist to help make traveling easier and more enjoyable.