by Larissa Breedlove
After years of deep stigmatization, the spotlight on mental health issues is growing stronger. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provide essential resources to millions of Americans affected by mental illness—approximately 1 in 3, to be exact. While awareness has become pivotal in driving change, the last bastion of mental health stigma may be to understand its often-nuanced impact on daily life—at work, at home, and while traveling.
First, it’s vital to remember that each mental illness varies in terms of severity and manifestation. In other words, no two people diagnosed with the same type of depression are alike. So when you develop your travel plans, be sure to consider your unique needs and symptoms.
Here are four more travel rules to remember:
- Develop a travel-specific safety plan. A mental health safety plan outlines unique stressors, ways to cope, and how to get help if needed. Think about your upcoming trip. Is there a time change? If so, how many hours? Sit down with your doctor and family to discuss how to acquire enough rest during your trip, especially if traveling over multiple time zones. While the rule of thumb may be to stay up as long as possible to get on the same schedule as your destination, it may be better to adjust medication to promote sleep, thus avoiding an episode. Be sure your safety plan identifies a 24/7 way to reach help quickly if needed.
2. Keep extra medication available. When I travel, I always carry an extra few days of medication to handle potential changes, like a canceled flight. Be sure to keep medication stowed in your carry-on items. You don’t want your medication getting lost with checked luggage. Carry a note from your doctor describing your condition, the medications you are on, and the prescribed doses. Make sure you can contact a doctor at your destination that can prescribe your medication if needed. This is especially important if you are traveling outside the U.S. When traveling abroad, also check if your medication is restricted at your destination. This may mean you will have to get a refill while traveling. Here are more tips on traveling with medication.
3. Expect stress. Travel means you will be out of your routine, and that means you will likely experience stress, from turbulent flights to time zone changes to, if traveling abroad, potential language barriers. To mitigate these triggers, prepare on how you will handle them. Talk through each scenario with your doctor and loved ones, whether that means carrying extra antianxiety medication on a flight to learning basic Spanish to better navigate Barcelona.
4. Don’t forget to have fun. During my trip to Glacier National Park this summer, my family and I endured a mean bout of Murphy’s Law, from the park’s initial closure to long drives to often-terrible weather. In addition to learning how to better manage future trips, I tried to remember how I embraced the fun parts, most notably how an epic dinner soothed a difficult day. Remember, travel is all about the unexpected. Don’t fear it. Plan well, choose to be positive, and remember to find the silver linings in every experience.
Larissa Breedlove is a writer and mental health advocate. She has written openly about her experience with mental health issues, including a panic disorder. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and their cat. She has spoken publicly about managing mental health issues in the workplace and enjoys travel and the arts. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.