Traveling Abroad with a Mental Health Condition

Traveling abroad can be a wonderful experience, full of new places, new people and new cultures to explore. But the very things that make this adventure so wonderful can also be what make it most stressful, particularly if you live with a mental health condition. Fortunately, a great deal of these potential complications can be avoided with careful planning before you even step on the plane.

Many people with mental health conditions take medication for it, so it’s vital that all medicines are packed correctly when preparing for your journey. Make sure all medications are transported in their original bottles in your luggage, instead of all thrown into a single bag. Since brand names vary from country to country, bring along your physician’s prescriptions with the generic names for all of your medications, and leave copies of these prescriptions with your emergency contact too. That way, if your medications are lost or stolen, you can get them filled in another country. Make sure that all the medicines you are bringing along will not conflict with the laws or regulations in the country you are traveling to by checking with that country’s embassy before departure. If you have any questions or doubts, talk to your doctor before you leave on your trip, as they can give you more personalized advice, including what to do in case of medical emergencies. Depending on your condition, a medical alert bracelet might by a good idea as well.

When you arrive at your destination, take some time to organize your medication in a way that will make it as easy as possible to keep track of, such as a pill organizer. However, even if you do all that, you still need to put some extra effort into keeping your medication schedule because your environment may be constantly changing. For example, when I’m home, I remember to take my pills in the morning by placing them in a spot I am guaranteed to see them, such as the bathroom or kitchen. However, during my time traveling abroad, there were some nights that I stayed in places where this wasn’t a realistic option. As a result, I forgot to take my medication while rushing to get out and see the sights the following morning. Therefore, it’s important to have back-up strategies, such as writing a reminder to take your medication on a post-it note, and placing it on your daily travel bag. If you are traveling with someone you feel comfortable confiding in, you can even ask for help remembering this part of your daily routine.

Even if you don’t need to worry about medication, almost every mental health condition can be aggravated by the stresses of traveling. The World Health Organization points out a variety of factors that can contribute to this stress, from dealing with new languages and cultures, to coping with the separation from your usual family and social support systems. While the former can be largely remedied with a great deal of research and planning ahead of time, the latter might not be such an obvious fix. If you’re traveling alone, one possible solution is to avoid completely separating yourself from these support systems altogether by keeping in touch with family and friends over the phone or online while traveling. Alternatively, you could travel with a friend or family member and share this amazing adventure together!

There are also several ways you can make sure you don’t feel disconnected from the medical support system you have at home, particularly if you will be traveling for several weeks. When you are planning your trip, talk to your mental health care provider about prepaying for sessions ahead of time in case you want to call and talk to them while you are overseas. It can also be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the laws and vernacular surrounding your condition, as well as the confidentiality laws unique to the country you are traveling to. Familiarize yourself with few useful words and phrases in that language, so that you can communicate effectively and feel safe and secure doing so.

Finally, not everyone has a support system at home, or even a personal mental health care provider. If you are in this situation, don’t worry! There are still resources available for you to contact and use while you are traveling abroad. The World Federation for Mental Health has members and contacts in 112 different countries around the world, and is run by mental health providers, consumers and other people who are dedicated to helping you have the best experience abroad possible. The National Empowerment Center and MindFreedom International also provide a wide variety of information regarding mental health self-advocacy and support groups available in several different countries around the world.

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