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      Mental health when travelling

      Latest update: - Authors: Ula Maniewski, Nele Alders

      Travelling can be stressful and drastic and can affect your mental health. Existing mental disorders may worsen, but even in travellers who previously had no known mental issues, undetected problems may suddenly become more noticeable or new mental problems can develop.  

      Often the symptoms arise from a combination of circumstances such as changing environment, loneliness, fatigue, jet lag, culture shock, peer pressure, use of alcohol or other narcotics. Travellers may also become involved in a traumatic experience.

      Upon return, people who have spent a long time abroad may experience reverse culture shock, characterised by a sense of alienation.  

      The risk of mental health problems in the traveller increases when they travel long or frequently, such as expatriates, or travel in difficult circumstances such as humanitarian workers, but mental problems can also occur with short trips. Most serious events occur in people who already had prior psychiatric problems. 

      Prevention

      Culture shock

      Prepare your trip well. Inform yourself about the cultures and customs of the country you are going to.

      Self-care

      • Take adequate rest and exercise.  

      • Keep in touch with your family and friends.

      Substance abus

      Be moderate with alcohol consumption and do not take other narcotics. Taking these can trigger psychiatric problems such as psychosis.

      Known psychiatric problems

      Consult your psychiatrist or psychologist before booking your trip if you have serious psychiatric problems.

      Psychopharmaceuticals

      • Take enough medication with you in original packaging.

      • Some painkillers, or ADHD medication may be subject to import restrictions. Please check with the embassy.

      Monitoring medication

      • It can be difficult to find a facility where blood levels for medication can be measured. 

      • Different eating habits or increased sweating can cause the level to fluctuate, even in people in whom it has been stable for a long time.

      Malaria prevention

      Do not take mefloquine if you have mental health problems.

      Traumatic experience

      • Consult a psychologist or psychiatrist after returning if you have complaints. 
      • Complaints of post-traumatic stress syndrome can also occur months or years after the experience.

      Repatriation

      Check whether your travel insurance covers the cost of repatriation due to mental health problems, especially if you already have mental problems before the trip.

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