You’ve been looking forward to your vacation for months—but a few days into your trip, you find yourself feeling tired and listless, without the energy or enthusiasm to go out and explore. You don’t want to do anything, you don’t want to interact with anyone, and it takes everything you have just to get out of bed. For people traveling with depression, this scenario might sound uncomfortably familiar.
If it does, you’re not alone. Depression is one of the most common mental health problems, affecting more than 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This includes plenty of travelers. “Mental health issues are among the leading causes of ill health among travelers,” notes WHO, “and ‘psychiatric emergency’ is one of the most common medical reasons for air evacuation, along with injury and cardiovascular disease.”
If you’re struggling with depression, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t travel, but you may need to take a little extra care and preparation to ensure that your trip goes smoothly. The following tips can help make traveling with depression a little easier.
Assess Yourself Honestly Before Traveling with Depression
Before you book any flights, take stock of whether you’re really ready to leave home. “Make sure your depression is well controlled,” advises Dr. Sarah Kohl of TravelReadyMD. “Typically this means no medication changes or flare-ups within the last three months.” If you see a doctor or therapist for your depression, he or she can help you assess your fitness for travel.
Know Your Options
Mental health problems are not handled the same way in every country. “Be aware of how mental health conditions are perceived at your destination, as this can influence the kind of care you receive,” says Daphne Hendsbee, Communications and Marketing Specialist at the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT). “Is forced admission (without the patient’s consent) the norm? What are the psychiatric facilities like? Is appropriate treatment/medication available? Can I find local mental health professionals that speak my language?”
If your depression is severe and there are few resources to help at your destination, you might want to reconsider your trip.
Make a Contingency Plan
Once you’ve decided to go, develop a plan for what you’ll do if travel depression strikes. This might include figuring out the best way to get in touch with your therapist at home, looking up English-speaking mental health professionals in your destination, or opening an account with an online counseling service such as Talkspace or BetterHelp. It’s also a good idea to look up the emergency number in the country you’re visiting.
Many travel insurance policies exclude mental health conditions from coverage. However, you might want to consider purchasing a “cancel for any reason” policy so you can call off a trip without penalty if your depression flares up before you’re scheduled to leave.
Manage Your Medications
If you’re on antidepressants or other medications, make sure you have more than enough for your trip (in case you lose a pill or have to stay a few extra days). Always pack medications in your carry-on, not your checked bag.
Do not change your medication dosages before or during a trip without your doctor’s knowledge. “You may have been feeling great for months … but that’s no reason to start adjusting your doses,” says Dr. Kerem Bortecen of NYC Surgical Associates. “You should only make adjustments under the careful supervision of your primary care physician or psychiatrist.”
International travelers should keep in mind that certain medications—including many psychotropic drugs used to treat depression—are restricted or even banned in some parts of the world, notes Sheryl Hill, Executive Director of DepartSmart.org. She recommends consulting with your local travel clinic to figure out how your destination handles the drugs you’re taking. It may be necessary to pack your medications in their original labeled bottles, along with a doctor’s note. IAMAT has a useful guide to this issue, and you can find country-specific information at the website of the International Narcotics Control Board.
If you’re taking special medications such as anti-malarial drugs for your trip, check with a doctor or pharmacist to make sure they are safe to combine with your antidepressants.
Plan Your Trip Wisely
When traveling with depression, many people find that stress can bring on symptoms or make them worse. If you’re not an experienced traveler, start small—like a weekend road trip or a quick flight to a nearby city rather than a two-week transatlantic trip spanning multiple countries.
No matter where you’re headed, advance planning can help…