Researchers estimate that about 26.2 percent of Americans 18 years old and older — that’s one of every four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. What’s more, 45 percent of those people meet criteria to be diagnosed with two or more mental disorders. So, for many Americans, daily life is a mental and emotional struggle. Add to that the rigors and stresses of international travel, and you’ve a got a potential disaster on your hands.
That disaster can be averted, though. If you’re suffering from a mental disorder, you don’t have to give up any hope of seeing the world. It takes some forethought and preparation, yes, but you can enjoy the wonders of international travel. Here’s how.
Preparing for travel
If you’re planning to travel internationally, talk to your doctor about it. She may have some specific techniques to help you cope with specific stressors as well as information about the legality of certain medications abroad. If you will be gone for a long-enough stretch that you’ll need to continue therapies overseas, you and your doctor should make arrangements before you leave.
Regardless of whether you’ll continue therapy abroad, invest in a good international health insurance policy. It’s a good idea for anyone traveling abroad, but it’s especially important for someone with a known medical condition. If you’re prone to especially serious episodes, purchase a policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage.
Airport security lines aren’t the best places for someone with an anxiety or social disorder, but if you’re prepared for them, you can make it through the checkpoints more quickly and smoothly. Here are some tips for packing and preparing for the airport:
- Wear shoes or sandals that you can quickly slip on and off.
- Don’t put your medications in your checked luggage — luggage sometimes gets lost, along with any medicine inside.
- Pack all your medications in a single, clear plastic bag in your carry-on luggage.
- Keep close at hand a copy of your prescriptions as well as a note from your physician that your drugs are for specific medical conditions. (Also put copies of these documents in your checked luggage.)
Medical note: In general, patients with mental health issues should not be prescribed the anti-malarial mefloquine because of its potential for neuropsychiatric side effects.
Dealing with stress and anxiety abroad
Traveling through an unknown country and being surrounded by strange people can compound stress and bring back problems that you had under control in your daily routine back home. Here are some tips for dealing with issues while you’re away from home:
- Get back to basics. Breathing and visualization exercises you learned in the past can come in handy once again while you’re traveling abroad. Make sure to brush up on and practice them before you leave.
- Bring something comforting with you, from pictures of loved ones to stuffed animals. Don’t bring anything you could never stand to lose, though.
- Write in a journal. Give yourself some “me time” to write about your experiences.
- Write letters home. Use mail and email to communicate with loved ones back home in the same way you might talk with them about your life.
While you’re traveling, remember that you’re not alone and that scores of people with the same issues as you are successfully traveling abroad every day. Keeping this in mind can help give you the confidence and reassurance you need to stay in control and have a wonderful time.