Updated: December 20, 2021 | Posted: April 18, 2021
Have you ever considered that your best travel companion might be your mental health professional?
Although they won’t be physically by your side on your trip, there are many ways they can still support you.
When I was first diagnosed with OCD, I didn’t want to travel not knowing how to live with my mental disorder. I had no desire to let it take over another trip. So, I met a therapist, an OCD specialist, who could teach me the proper behaviors to minimize my mental illness’s impact. I even shared with him my previous trip stories and future travel aspirations. Throughout treatment, he encouraged me to take on those travels. With the proper techniques I had acquired, I began traveling again. I’m glad to say that I was in much better control of my mental health in the following months and trips.
Traveling can induce many kinds of stress, including but not limited to culture shock, missing home, feelings of loneliness, and uncertainty.
But just because you know travel is stressful or that you have a pre-existing mental health condition, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t travel.
I wholeheartedly believe you can. Society is utterly wrong for perpetuating the common myth that having worries means being weak. It’s the opposite! You are strong for acknowledging the presence of your worries and for trying to improve your well-being. After all, you came here to read my words. And if I believe in you, I hope you will form your own belief, which will help carry you through the difficult task of improving mental health.
If you have mental health issues and are concerned about handling life on the road, I can tell you from personal experience that your mental health issues don’t have to stop you from taking a trip.
You don’t have to brave your travels alone. Here are my recommendations for seeking mental health services before, during, and after your trip:
I wouldn’t have embarked on a trip unless I’ve had success coping with my mental health conditions under my therapist’s supervision. As I’ve said previously, I wouldn’t feel comfortable traveling if I was neglecting my mental health’s needs. After all, travel on its own presents many challenges, from finding a toilet to getting on the right bus. Do I really need my severe, untreated mental health challenges stacking up on top of them? Would I want my OCD to barge in and steal my attention while I was in the middle of my travels? No thanks!
Before booking your airplane ticket, make sure that you’ve visited your therapist to treat any pre-existing mental health problems and have practiced your therapeutic techniques.
Go over any worries you have with them.
Be ready to deal with your symptoms now so you can tolerate the new stresses, challenges, and potential triggers during your future travels.
If you don’t have a therapist yet, here’s my efficient, in-depth guide to finding the right one for you. In addition, the following therapist directories can help you on your search:
- Psychology Today has a comprehensive directory with bios for each therapist.
- Inclusive Therapists if getting a culturally-competent therapist is important to you.
- If you are from outside the United States, Therapy Route has a large worldwide therapist directory.
I no longer recommend mental health apps such as BetterHelp and TalkSpace, even though their virtual flexibility is alluring. A reader told me about these apps’ problematic privacy practices and I confirmed them by checking with Consumer Reports. I will always put my readers first before any company.
When you believe you are ready to travel, meet with your medical professionals (primary doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist). Here’s what you can expect:
- When you share your mental health history, prescriptions, and upcoming trip plans, they can help you determine if you are fit to travel.
- If you have a prescribed medication, they may be able to provide you insider information about a country’s regulation on it, too, as many countries have restrictions on bringing in certain types of medicine.
- Make sure to bring documents, both paper and electronic copies, certified by your medical professional detailing your mental health diagnosis and medication in the local language, in case of an emergency while abroad.
- Ask if you can keep in touch with them while you are traveling. The communication between you two could be as short as a quick check-in. If your mental health specialist allows it, you could even schedule full-fledged teletherapy appointments with them.
During your trip
If at any point you need mental health services while traveling, contact your therapist (based on your agreement with them that you made before your trip).
My current therapist knows all about my travel goals and plans, and has encouraged me to move forward with them. Having just scheduled an upcoming trip back to my Phoenix hometown, I will let my therapist know about it and meet with him if needed — I visit him virtually, so being away from home is no problem.
If you are in an emergency, you have some options to choose from:
- Contact the embassy in the country you’re in. They can redirect you to a relevant medical institution.
- In a serious emergency, call the local emergency number.
- If you want to call a helpline in the local area, find one at Find a Helpline or Befrienders, which both have a big international database of helplines.
- Crisis Text Line is a free, 24/7 service where you exchange text messages with a trained Crisis Counselor. They will work through your mental health episode, big or small, and help you get calm. However, they aren’t a mental health professional.
- US and Canada: text 741741
- UK: text 85258
- Ireland: text 50808
- You can even use Facebook Messenger!
Recommending reading: Travel is Not a Mental Health Cure
After your trip
Be aware of any mental health conditions, symptoms, relapses, and emergencies that have arisen during and after your trip. In that case, share them with your at-home medical professionals, including your therapist, psychiatrist, and primary physician.
If you need to meet with your mental health professional(s) again, there is no shame in doing so. I highly encourage you to seek help whenever needed. Just as we have physical checkups with our primary care doctor sometimes, we also need to maintain our mental health and visit a therapist or psychiatrist if we need to.
Travel is fun, but your well-being — and the quality of your trip — relies on good mental health. It’s safe to make sure that you work with your therapist before and possibly during your trip.
It is a dangerous myth that travel resolves all of life’s problems. And it certainly won’t act as a cure-all for mental health concerns. That’s best left to the mental health professionals, who care about your life quality and will work with you on the path to leading the life and travels you want.
I have seen four mental health specialists so far, each one unique in how they approach mental health treatments. However, it was obvious to me that they wanted me to get back to my life, which for me lies on the road.
They say that the most important decision when making travel plans is your travel buddy.
Your mental health specialist counts as one!
Share on Pinterest!