Looking after your mental health
Travelling is exciting, but it can also be challenging if you struggle with your mental health. Mental health is one of the leading causes of ill health for travellers.
Suffering a mental health episode while you're overseas can be distressing. It impacts you, your travel companions and your family and friends back home.
Before you go, you can take steps to reduce the risk of having problems overseas. Explore this page to learn about:
- common triggers for mental health episodes when travelling
- common mental health conditions for Australian travellers
- planning for travel with a mental health condition
- where to get help overseas when things go wrong
The Australian Government is limited how and when it can help overseas. For more information, read the Consular Services Charter.
This page is for Australians with a mental health condition planning to travel overseas. If you're already travelling, see our general advice on medical assistance overseas.
Common triggers for mental health episodes when travelling
The stresses of travel can trigger a mental health episode. It can happen to anyone. Even if you've never had a mental health problem before. 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 places
- culture shock and loneliness
- language barriers
Be aware of the potential triggers. You can take steps to reduce the risk of one triggering an episode. Talk to your doctor about what steps are right for you.
Common mental health conditions for Australian travellers
Mental health conditions affect many Australian travellers.
Common conditions include:
- anorexia or bulimia (i.e. eating disorders)
- anxiety or panic attacks
- bipolar disorder
- drug abuse
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- personality disorder
Having a mental health conditions doesn't mean you can't travel. It just means you need to consider how it will impact your trip. You need to plan ahead to prevent problems overseas.
Planning for travel with a mental health condition
Planning ahead will help you minimise your risks and increase your chances of having a great time.
See your doctor or therapist
Getting sick or forgetting to take your medication could trigger a mental health episode.
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 countries 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.
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.
Research local laws and attitudes
You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that may appear harsh by Australian standards.
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.
Research local laws and attitudes before travelling.
Getting help overseas
You're responsible for your mental health while you travel. If you need help overseas, you'll need to seek local medical assistance. You may need to seek help from your family, friends or travel insurer.
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.
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.
- Understand what the Australian Government can and can't do for you overseas. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- See healthdirect for information and advice on mental illness (Department of Health).
- Read the Better Health Channel's information on different types of mental health issues (Victorian Department of Health and Human Services).
- Visit Beyond Blue for information about living with mental illness
- Read how Lifeline can support you during a mental health crisis
- Get insurance that covers mental health. Read the Travel Insurance Guide (CHOICE).
Getting medical assistance overseas can be challenging and expensive, especially in an emergency. Read our advice on what to do when when you need help.
When you go overseas, you may be exposed to a range of infectious diseases. Before you go, learn about the health risks in your destination and see your doctor.