Travelling with mental health problems

Factors affecting mental health during travel

Your mental and physical health prior to, and during, a trip determine how well you will cope with travel stress. Lack of familiar support systems, disrupted daily routines, language barriers, culture shock and unexpected situations can intensify stress levels rather than alleviate them. Consider the following:

tiredness or lack of sleep

major life events occurring prior to travel such as a birth, death, wedding, divorce, moving or serious illness

difficult home or professional life; experiencing recent emotional exhaustion or financial strain

being lonely; prone to depression and anxiety

having pre-existing psychiatric, behavioural, neurological disorders; memory or cognitive deficits.

dependence on, or misuse of, psychoactive substances

using medications that have psychiatric or neurological side effects (some anti-retrovirals and anti-malarials)

stopping medications while travelling and the side effects of this withdrawal

infections (particularly urinary tract infections in people over 60 years of age) are an example of the physical health issues that can radically affect behaviour and mental health

type and duration of travel; adventure, business, leisure, emergency aid work, missions

travel destination; travelling to politically unstable or war-torn areas, returning to a place where psychological trauma occurred

there are clear links between mental and physical health, which makes looking after yourself whilst travelling and while abroad so important

Planning before you go

Follow this checklist to prepare for travel abroad:

Have you checked the foreign travel advice?


Does your insurance cover your mental health condition?

Before you travel, get comprehensive travel insurance – which includes any pre-existing medical conditions you have, and ensure it covers all activities you intend to undertake. If you do not take out proper insurance, you will normally have to pay the costs of any emergency yourself, including expensive medical bills. Choosing to go to a country against our travel advice may seriously restrict any help we can provide and may also mean that your travel insurance is not valid

Is your medication legal and available in your destination?

At least six weeks before you travel, check with your doctor what vaccinations and other health precautions you may need to take for your trip. Take any prescribed medicine with you and keep it to hand, as well as a copy of the prescription. Be aware that some medications (including prescription medications) may be illegal in the country you are visiting. Speak to your prescribing doctor for advice. 

Is your passport valid and in good condition?

Make sure your passport is valid and in good condition and that you have any necessary visas. Fill in the emergency contact details in your passport.

What mental health services are available in the country you are travelling to?

Before you go research what mental health facilities are available in your destination. Facilities and resources available to those experiencing mental health issues, as well as the understanding of these issues, vary greatly in different countries. Remember that we cannot get you better treatment in a hospital than the treatment that is given to local people because we cannot interfere in another country’s processes (just as we would not accept such interference in the UK).

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