Looking after your mental health
Travelling with a mental health condition can be challenging.
Before you go, you can take steps to reduce the risk of having problems overseas.
This page is for Australians planning to travel overseas. If you're already travelling and need mental health support, see our advice on medical assistance overseas.
What is a mental health condition?
A mental health condition can affect how you think, feel and behave. It can also affect your physical health. It can happen to anyone, even if you've never had a mental health condition before.
A mental health condition can be mild, lasting only a few weeks or months, or it can be moderate to severe and impact on your ability to function day to day.
Read more about mental health and mental illness on HealthDirect (Department of Health).
Planning to take care of your mental health while travelling
Planning ahead will help you minimise your risks and increase your chances of having a successful trip. Before you leave on your travels, consider the following steps you can take to be prepared.
- Be aware of potential triggers for a mental health condition when travelling
- See your doctor or therapist
- Check your medications are legal in your destination
- Research local laws and attitudes to mental health conditions
- Get travel insurance that covers mental health conditions
- Know where to get support while you're overseas
Potential triggers for a mental health condition when travelling
The stresses of travel may worsen or trigger a mental health condition. Stresses that can come with travel include:
- separation from family and friends
- time zone changes and jet lag
- changing your normal routines
- new people and place
- culture shock and loneliness
- language barriers
- disruption to/cancellation of bookings
- difficulty in refilling medications, or losing medication
Be aware of the potential triggers. You can take steps to reduce unexpected stress by having a plan of action in case things go wrong. Talk to your doctor about what steps are right for you.
See your doctor or therapist
Getting sick or forgetting to take your medication could trigger a mental health condition.
Consult your doctor or therapist to:
- discuss plans for coping with travel and potential limited access to medical facilities
- get enough prescription medication to keep you in good health while you're away
- check if there are any issues with mixing your mental health medication with travel medication
- document your mental health plan and treatment if an episode occurs so you can carry this documentation with you
Check your medications are legal
Not all medication available over the counter or by prescription in Australia is available in other countries. Some may even be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.
Check with the embassies or consulates of the destinations you’re visiting to make sure your medicine is legal there. Take enough legal medication for your trip.
Carry a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating:
- what the medication is
- how much you'll take
- that it's for personal use
Keep some medication in your hand luggage in case your checked baggage is lost or stolen.
Research local laws and attitudes to mental health conditions
Attitudes and beliefs about physical illness and mental health can vary greatly in other countries. Mental health conditions aren't always accepted the way they are in Australia.
Many low-income developing countries don't have medical resources for mental health issues. In some countries it might be hard to get help or medication.
You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that may appear harsh by Australian standards.
Get travel insurance
Get travel insurance. If you can't afford insurance, you can't afford to travel.
Some insurers only cover mental health issues if the first time it happens is after you bought your policy.
Choose your travel insurance policy carefully. Most basic policies won’t cover you for mental health conditions. You may need to pay extra to be covered.
- Check if your policy covers mental health condition. If not, ask if you can add cover as an extra.
- Check exclusions. Even if they'll cover your condition, they may still exclude it some situations.
- Read the product disclosure statement (PDS). The fine print (terms and conditions) could have information that makes the policy unsuitable for your needs.
It's important to clarify what your insurer considers a pre-existing mental health condition. Some consider a single visit to a therapist many years ago as a condition. A low appetite could be considered an eating disorder.
If in doubt, check the PDS or ask your insurer, travel agent or broker.
See which travel insurance products include mental health cover. Read the CHOICE Travel Insurance Guide.
Getting support overseas
You're responsible for your mental health while you travel.
Mental health support is available through the healthcare system in many destinations but may be limited in others. Local services may not be available to foreigners.
Familiarise yourself with support services that are available in your destination. Contact the Australian Embassy, Consulate or High Commission in your destination if you need advice about local mental health support services.
There are limits to what the Australian Government can do to help if you have a mental health episode overseas. Read the Consular Services Charter. It outlines what the Australian Government can and can’t do to help you overseas.
Read more about mental health support overseas on our medical assistance page.
What we can do
- We can help you find local mental health practitioners that speak English.
- We can help connect local doctors with your Australian doctors.
- We can provide guidance on how to get prescribed medication locally.
- We can raise concerns about your treatment or welfare in hospital.
- We can contact your family and insurer, with your consent.
What we can’t do
- We can't give you medical advice or recommend providers.
- We can't pay your medical bills, or loan you money.
- We can't get you out of jail if you're arrested for breaking a local law.
- We can't stop you from travelling, or force you to get medical assistance.
- We can't force you to return to Australia.
- We can't arrange for better treatment or direct your treatment.
- We can't provide translation or interpreter services.
- We can't take care of your belongings while you're in hospital.
- Read our general advice on travelling with medication.
- You need insurance. Read about choosing the right travel insurance.
- Read about Australia's reciprocal health care agreements.
- Learn about health issues and health care in your destinations.
- See our advice on getting medical assistance overseas
- Understand what the Australian Government can and can't do for you overseas. Read the Consular Services Charter.
Many countries don't have the same access, services or support for people with disabilities as Australia. Learn more about travelling with a disability.
This page provides mature travellers with information to prepare for a hassle-free journey. Properly preparing before you travel will help you have a safe trip.