Traveling Abroad with Psychiatric Medication and Other Mental Health Needs
- Take medications with you in your carry-on luggage, not in checked luggage. That way, if your luggage is lost or your plane is delayed, you will still have access to your medications.
- Bring a copy of the prescription or some other documentation identifying the medications as legitimately yours. If possible, keep your medication in its original bottle, which has the correct label and instructions.
- Keep a note in a separate place from your medications, listing the name, dose, and other instructions related to your medications, along with your own physician’s and pharmacist’s phone numbers. That way, if your medications are lost, you will have the information you need to obtain a new supply as quickly as possible.
- As much as possible, keep your medications in a cool, dry place that is safe from children and from theft.
- Bring enough medications to last the trip, or make arrangements in advance for how you will refill the prescription while you are abroad. For example, you may need to find out: Are there pharmacy services where you will be? Is your medication available there? Will you be able to use your US insurance? Your US prescription? Is it legal to have medications mailed to you there? How reliable is the governmental mail service and are other carriers available (e.g., FedEx)?
- Remember that the effect and effectiveness of your medications can change with changes in stress, diet, and climate. Even if you have been stable and doing well on your medications, plan in advance what you will do if your medications become problematic and you need psychiatric services while you are abroad.
- Maintain your medication schedule – even if it is inconvenient while you are on the road. Remember that your schedule of medication may also change as time zones change – ask your current provider to advise you on how to adjust your medication schedule to a new time zone.
- Check whether the local tap water is safe before using it to take medications. If the local water is not safe to drink, use bottled water or bottled soda (unless otherwise indicated by your prescription).
- Locate a provider abroad – a US-trained provider is preferable, for the continuity of your care and to minimize language problems. Your insurance company, your program abroad, or the US embassy in that location, are good places to ask for the names and contact information of local providers.
OTHER MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS
Travel Anxiety and Stress Reduction
- Whether traveling by plane, train, boat, or bus, leave for your departure point early enough so that you do not feel rushed and can deal with delays such as traffic or long lines.
- Cut back on sugar and caffeine, which exacerbate anxiety. Drink plenty of water.
- When you feel anxious, practice “four square breathing.” For the count of four, each: breathe in deeply, hold; let breath all the way out through pursed lips; and take a cleansing breath. Repeat. You’ll find that each time you breath all the way out, you will be breathing out some of your anxiety, and feeling more relaxed.
- Try to maintain a reasonable schedule and diet. Changes in sleep and diet can have a significant effect on your emotional well-being, and traveling to a different culture often entails such changes.
- Be aware of the attitudes towards mental illness in the culture you are visiting. Whether you decide to be very private or very open about your own mental health issues, you can use this opportunity to learn about how different cultures think about mental well-being and mental illness.
- Don’t be surprised if you experience strong emotional reactions to being in a very new and different place. It can feel very strange to be far from everyone you know and everything you are used to. You may feel anxious, or homesick, or frustrated, or fearful, or self-conscious, in ways that are quite unlike your usual self. Such “culture shock” is often a normal and temporary reaction to new surroundings. If you feel you need some emotional support as you get adjusted, or you feel your emotional reactions are more severe than a normal adjustment phase, seek out the help of a sympathetic adult, such as a host parent, a teacher, or your program administrator.
- For comfort, bring a photo of a loved one with you, or a favorite object to remind you of home. Don’t bring anything that you couldn’t stand being lost or stolen. Keep a journal. Send lots of letters home describing your new surroundings.
- Introduce yourself to others and try to strike up pleasant relationships, even in the face of language difficulties. Friendship can be a wonderful cure for culture shock!
- If you are in psychotherapy and plan to spend enough time in one location abroad that you want to continue your therapy there, work in advance to locate a provider. A US-trained provider is preferable, for the continuity of your care and to minimize language problems. Your insurance company, your program abroad, the US embassy in that location, or your current therapist are good resources to ask for the names and contact information of local providers.
- If it would be helpful for your current therapist to be in touch with your therapist abroad, ask your current therapist if you need to sign a release before you go. You may be able to sign such a release even if you don’t yet know the name of your new therapist abroad.
- Carry with you the number of the local US embassy, your program director, a family member, and your current therapist, in case you need to reach someone in an emergency.
I have enough medication for the trip, or information regarding how to obtain a renewal abroad.
My medication are in my carry-on luggage, clearly identified by the label or prescription.
I have a separate copy of my medication information and contact information for my psychiatrist/psychotherapist/pharmacist at home. I have contact information for my program administrator, embassy, or other resource abroad in case I need help getting mental health support while there.
I am carrying bottled water, or I know the water where I am going is safe to drink.
I have packed something for comfort when I get homesick, such as photos or a journal.
© 2003 Abigail Lipson, American University Counseling Center