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Mental Health and Travel

While travelling and / or living abroad can be very exciting and enjoyable, it can also put a strain on your mental health. The situation can become particularly difficult if you are far from family and friends, in a culture that is quite different from that which you are used to, or in a region where you do not speak the local language, especially if unexpected issues arise (e.g. loss of employment, becoming the victim of a crime, losing a loved one while far from home, etc.).

[Note: If you are not travelling or living abroad yourself, but know someone who is, you might like to bring this page to their attention, particularly if you have concerns about their mental health.]

Protecting yourself before you go

There are a number of things you can do to protect your mental health during your time abroad:

  • Ensure that you have a comprehensive health insurance policy that covers any medical care you might need for mental illness while abroad, including emergency treatment, personal liability cover, hospitalisation (including longer stays) and repatriation. Read our advice on travel and health insurance here.
  • Obtain / renew your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – see more here.
  • If you have experienced mental health issues in the past, or are currently experiencing them, you may wish to consult with your healthcare provider prior to departure in order to discuss what steps you can take to protect yourself and to deal with any symptoms that might occur.
  • If you suffer from a mental health condition, research the region to which you intend to travel in advance in order to establish whether or not any services you may need will be available. If you take medication, it is important to ensure that you will have sufficient supplies available to you throughout your stay. Bear in mind that in many parts of the world mental health services are unfortunately lacking and mental illness may not be widely understood. Language barriers may pose a further difficulty, as English is not widely understood everywhere.
  • Be aware that in many countries (including those with advanced services for people suffering from mental illness), acute mental illness can in some case lead to you being detained without your consent. In such cases our ability to offer assistance is likely to be limited.
  • If you intend to take medication with you when travelling abroad, check beforehand with the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the country you’re planning to visit whether or not you will be allowed to bring the medication into the country concerned, and, if so, whether or not you will need to bring proof that you have been prescribed the medication due to illness. Even if it is generally permitted to take your specific medication into the country, check to see whether or not there are restrictions on the amount that may be brought in. In some countries, being in possession of certain types of medication (or  more than a limited amount of it) may be regarded as evidence of illegal drug smuggling, even if the medication concerned has been prescribed for you by a doctor.This can lead to very serious legal consequences.
  • Bringing a physician’s letter (in the appropriate language) with you that provides details of your diagnosis and medications, as well as a copy of your prescription, is helpful in case of contact with medical / psychiatric services during travel. It may also be useful should you have contact with authorities (e.g. police) during your stay or should you be queried as to why you are carrying the medication (see above).

If you are bringing vital medication with you (having made sure that you will be allowed to bring it into the country and that you have taken the precautions set out above), place it in your hand luggage where possible – luggage transported separately may be delayed or go missing. You may wish to check in advance with your airline that you will be allowed to bring your medication on the flight.

Protecting yourself while abroad

The website of the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) has a sub-section devoted to “Travel and Mental Health” that gives helpful advice and recommendations to travellers who may experience mental health issues while abroad. This website also has a variety of articles providing advice and information on travel and mental health. These articles are available here.

The HSE offers some very useful advice on mental health issues and on how to look after your mental health. While this guidance is not specific to people travelling or living abroad, it is equally applicable to them.

We recommend that you pre-arrange contact (e.g. via telephone, Skype, email, etc.) with close friends and family at home, especially when travelling alone.

Carrying the contact details of your travelling companions / accommodation / friends or family at home on your person may help local authorities to contact them if an emergency arises.

If you do feel that your mental health is deteriorating, seek help in good time.

Your nearest Irish Embassy or Consulate can assist you where appropriate. While we are not mental health professionals, and therefore cannot provide health / medical advice, we may be in a position to, for example, provide information on available services or contact your family / friends on your behalf. See our Consular Assistance Charter for a summary of the kind of help we can – and cannot – offer.

The nature and extent of supports available to those suffering from mental health issues while abroad can vary greatly depending on the location, ranging from near-universal availability of high-quality care in some regions to an almost total lack of services in others. For this reason it is not possible to provide here a summary of the supports available in other countries.

However, you should be able to make contact with organisations based in Ireland. Organisations / services that provide assistance in Ireland to those experiencing mental ill health, including crisis situations, include the following:*

Please note that not all of these organisations operate 24/7 helplines, and that many also offer assistance via other channels, such as text, email and webchat. Please check the respective websites for full details of contact services offered.

The international dialling code for Ireland is 00353.

Further information on mental health services in Ireland is provided by the HSE.

[Note: If you have concerns about the mental health of a loved one who is currently abroad, you might like to consider bringing these organisations to their attention.]

*Please note that this list is not intended to be a full or comprehensive list of all organisations / services that provide assistance to people in Ireland who are experiencing mental health issues or a mental health crisis, nor is it intended as a recommendation of the specific organisations / services listed.