For many of us a holiday is a time to relax and forget about our worries. But for some this is not always possible, so what is it like to be a traveller with mental health issues and what advice is there?
October 10th marks the 23rd World Mental Health Day. In my opinion this awareness day should not go by quietly considering that around a quarter of our population will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year (according to the Mental Health Foundation). Yet, on the whole, such issues are only on the periphery of our society. Still, in the haven of home there is quick access to doctors, medication and a wider support system for those in need. But when you go abroad there is a lot more to think about from insurance, to medication, to the language barrier. So what advice is there that you can follow?
Preparation is key - always Know Before You Go. Being able to make the most of travelling while keeping yourself safe all starts at home. Insurance is dull, but necessary. It is important that any previous or current illnesses you have been diagnosed with are disclosed to the insurance company. It is likely your insurance will be more expensive by doing this, often unfairly so, but it means if you are ever caught needing to use your insurance there can be no disputes! The second big planning step is medication. Ensure you have plenty of any medication you may need with you, the Foreign and Commonwealth office advice page highlights that some countries may not stock what you need so be sure to be self-reliant when it comes to this! You should get a copy of your prescription or a letter from your consultants to show to authorities on your travels as some medication is actually illegal in certain countries. Preparation can help you make the most out of your holiday.
Makes sure it's not lost in translation! Try to translate the medication and your illness into the language of the country you're travelling to, this could save you a lot of hassle and time if you everneed to find medication or help immediately while abroad. You should also try and translate and learn other key words. From any allergies you may have to the word for hospital or chemist. Having these can help to keep your mind at rest and can keep you prepared for almost anything! The Disability Officer at the University of Birmingham also suggested a 'medicalert' bracelet or necklace,this can help people understand that you need help if you face an episode rather than dismissing you. And always remember to get yourself an EHIC card if you're travelling within Europe. This will help cover the cost of medical treatments in the main EU countries, removing an element of stress.
You may be going solo or travelling with old friends, but whatever the situation, if you can, try and make sure somebody is aware of your illness and can help if needs be. Be as open and honest as you feel comfortable with. Keeping yourself surrounded by a great support system can mean you make the most out of your holiday! This is especially true if you are travelling with close friends, you can ask them for extra help on those days when you aren't feeling as confident in yourself, from ordering drinks in a foreign place to helping you plan the next day so you feel in control and safe. Always remember to get phone numbers of those you're travelling with, your hostel and other important contacts such as hospitals. This adds another level of support, giving you reassurance that no matter where you are you can reach someone. Lastly, be comfortable with seeking help at the British Embassy if needs be, having their number saved on your phone again adds reassurance. All the staff are non-judgemental and are there to care for you! Don't be afraid to speak up.
Self-care is also key to making the most of your time abroad. Understanding your condition, your triggers and helping to prevent an episode is a great way to have the best holiday ever (even if this might mean missing one night out). For example, if you know you suffer from anxiety be sure to plan exactly where you're going, know where/how to get transport - help yourself feel in control! Home comforts can be a big help as part of self-care, try calling home when you feel you need support or reassurance, or take a familiar item. Never underestimate the power of these home comforts.
Finally, once you have planned and prepared it is key to remember that you are on holiday, it is all going to be fine, you are going to see amazing things and you deserve to enjoy it. Be proud of yourself, you have proven that you can do what you want, you're not letting anything hold you back.
For any more information the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has some really great information.