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Updated 02 July 2014

When travel boggles the mind

Psychiatric emergencies are among the leading cause of air evacuations. Here's what you should know about it.

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Travel health brings to mind yellow fever shots and making sure you boil that dodgy river water properly. It doesn't usually evoke concerns about mental illness, but it should when one considers that psychiatric emergencies are the leading cause of air evacuations along with injury and cardiovascular disease.

Mental health problems while travelling are very common.

One of the ironies of modern travel is that we often indulge in it precisely for our mental well-being. But although regular me-time far from the daily grind is a sane idea, travel, even positive travel, is one of the most stressful activities we put ourselves through.

Hurtling across time zones, culture shock, spatial disorientation, struggling in a foreign language, watching your stash of foreign currency dwindle, rushing to catch planes and trains and automobiles, even fretting that your destination isn't meeting expectations after all you've sacrificed to get there – the cumulative effect is enough to trigger anxiety or depression in the stablest traveller, never mind those susceptible to such episodes.

Prepare for strange environments

These travel stress management tips are especially important to people with a history of mental illness, but any owner of that most fragile and precious of organs – the human brain – would do well to heed them:

  • Prepare yourself for strange new environments. Research the places you'll be visiting – find out about the culture and social mores, and current political or religious sensitivities. Learn at least the basics of the language.
  • Be flexible. One of the charms and challenges of travel is that it never pans out quite as you imagined. Plan well beforehand, but aim to be positive and adaptable when the unexpected inevitably happens. Remember: sometimes the worst travel experiences make for the best anecdotes!
  • Choose travelling companions carefully, and think twice about travelling alone, particularly on long trips. Far from home you don't have your familiar social support system, and loneliness can become acute. If you do go solo, have a system of regularly checking in with trusted friends or family.
  • Don't try to pack too much into your itinerary, and allow sufficient time between more intense or tiring sections of travel simply to unwind and take stock.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, Travel and Enviro Health Editor, Health24, updated April 2012 

 
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