Mental health is a very broad topic. It covers an enormous range of conditions, each with their own symptoms, risk factors, triggers and treatment pathways. From depression to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder to anxiety, there are more than 200 recognised conditions that defy easy classification and generalisation.
When talking about travelling with a mental health issue, it is important to stress that the specifics of your own condition are what matter most. It is essential that you talk to your doctor about your plans, about your concerns, and agree a plan for staying safe and well with a qualified professional.
Before you reach that stage, however, it is worth knowing some basic things about mental health and travel which are more or less universal. Mental illness is one of the leading causes of citizens needing to be repatriated from abroad. It therefore makes sense to be armed with as much information as you can when planning a trip. Here are three of the most important things you need to know.
Different cultures view mental illness in very different ways
Not every country is tolerant and understanding about mental illness, and particularly about some of the behaviours it can trigger. In some parts of the world, for instance, an episode that leads to violent, aggressive or criminal behaviour will not be treated as a health issue and could land you in very serious trouble with the law. It is therefore worth researching attitudes in countries you plan to visit and deciding whether it is worth the risk.
Some medications are illegal in certain countries
Certain medicines widely used to control symptoms of mental illness in places like Europe and the US, including narcotics and psychotropics, are banned in many places across the world. Taking such medications into these countries is a criminal offence, unless you can supply clear evidence that it has been prescribed by a doctor and why you need it. It is therefore essential you do your research and carry prescriptions and letters from your doctor, preferably in the local language.
You need travel insurance for mental health
One of the main reasons anyone travelling abroad takes out travel insurance is to cover them for medical expenses should they require attention. Most standard policies, however, will not include treatment for mental health problems. What is more, if you do have a mental health issue and don’t declare it, you could invalidate your entire cover should you need to make a claim. Searching for dedicated mental health travel insurance ensures you will get the right cover for your needs. You will probably be asked to go through a screening process, or provide information from your doctor, so that a policy can be tailored appropriately. Some travel insurance companies which offer this kind of cover may include certain conditions – depression, anxiety, bipolar and eating disorders, for example – in their standard policies, meaning there is no need to create a bespoke package.