Travel is enjoyable, but there is no doubt that it can be stressful. Even if you don't have a prior history of mental illness, travel stress, mood changes, anxiety and other mental health concerns can unexpectedly affect you and potentially disrupt your trip. Studies show that psychiatric emergencies are the leading cause of air evacuations along with injuries and cardiovascular disease.
Factors affecting mental health during travel
Your mental and physical health prior to, and during, a trip determines how well you will cope with travel stress. Consider the following:
Tiredness, 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 antiretrovirals and antimalarials)
Type and length 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
Mental health abroad
Mental illness is an under-recognized public health concern and travellers often have difficulty accessing adequate emergency psychiatric care abroad. While more than half of all countries have a stand-alone mental health legislation, in many countries implementation of these laws is weak.
According to the World Health Organization Mental Health Atlas 2014, the number of psychiatrists varies from 0.07 per 100,000 people in Africa to 7.43 per 100,000 people in Europe. All regions except Europe and the Western Pacific have less than 2 beds per 100,000 people in psychiatric wards located in general hospitals.
Persons with mental health concerns have the additional burden of dealing with stigma and negative attitudes and behaviour towards their illness. Prejudice and discrimination towards mental illness may determine the quality of medical care you will receive abroad.
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Tips for coping with travel stress
Tips for travellers with no prior history of mental illness