Travel With Serious Mental Illness
Major life events, such as travel to unfamiliar places, can lead to an increase in general arousal and the exacerbation of psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia. Although most patients with schizophrenia cannot afford long-distance travel, some lead a quasi-permanent itinerant lifestyle, and many are able to take holiday trips with family.
Thanks to a generous donation a decade ago (called Cathy’s Fund after a former clinic member who had been a successful single parent despite serious long-standing psychotic illness), the Women’s Clinic for Psychosis in Toronto was able to sponsor travel abroad for some of its members. The mission of the fund was to keep families together by helping women with schizophrenia reconnect with family members who lived far away, helping mothers reunite with estranged children, helping women visit and bond with distant friends and relatives, and allowing women to enjoy otherwise unaffordable holiday trips with relatives or close friends.
Mental health travel risks
Psychotic decompensation can occur during travel in persons with or without a psychiatric history.1 Air travel, in particular, is implicated. According to the World Health Organization, mental illness constitutes 1 of the 3 main health crises encountered in air travel; the other 2 are physical injury and cardiac events.2 Phobias such as fear of flying, enclosed spaces, crowds, or strangers can be triggered by travel.3 About 20% of travel incidents are described as acute psychotic episodes—individuals with a history of a psychiatric disorder are the most susceptible.
The longer the travel, the higher the risk appears to be.
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