Mental Health Abroad
Whether a traveler is currently being treated for a mental health condition or if it’s considered something of the past, preparing for and participating in any new experience can bring about a return or increase in symptoms. Additionally, other changes, such as in air quality, elevation, diet or climate as well as stress factors related to culture and language can exacerbate symptoms, or even create new ones. Furthermore, extended travel also results in the loss of a support network, a routine, and a familiar environment. Any one of these changes or a combination of several changes can impact a traveler’s mental health.
Since it is always easier to prevent or respond to difficulties if they have been anticipated ahead of time, use this guide to prepare for mental health care and services abroad.
Although the state of one’s mental health is a personal matter and responsibility, we urge travelers, particularly students who will be abroad for more than two weeks, to be open with one or more trusted member of the Northwestern community about one’s health history to consider any vulnerabilities related to international travel.
Students may wish to have this conversation with an academic adviser, a study abroad adviser or with a someone in the following units:
- Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS)
- Northwestern’s Health Service (NUHS)
- Student Assistance and Supportive Services (SASS)
- Global Safety and Security (OGSS)
Furthermore, all travelers with chronic conditions under treatment, especially for long durations or going to challenging locations, should discuss any travel plans with their current provider. Such conversations can identify needed resources or support that should be arranged abroad. This might include, but is not limited to ensuring access to refills of prescription medications, regular check-ins with one’s Stateside provider or in-person counseling sessions abroad. While a current provider may be willing to continue therapy sessions during travel by phone or Skype, there is concern that licensing laws and liability insurance in the U.S. may not cover treatment practiced across international lines. Note that CAPS providers cannot provide remote counseling.
As a result, regular, in-person counseling appointments with qualified practitioners abroad is covered under Northwestern’s international medical assistance plan with GeoBlue. While mental health support services vary worldwide, there are pre-approved, English-speaking mental health professional willing to take new patients in the vast majority of locations where Northwestern travels. New in 2020, GeoBlue has added several remote counseling services to its offerings. These are available to students abroad through GeoBlue. To review options in your destination, follow the instructions for Making Contact with GeoBlue under the section on Current Health Conditions. Travelers do not need to be enrolled in GeoBlue to receive this information.
Students receiving CAPS services are encouraged to review this information with their CAPS counselor, who can obtain provider information from the Office of Global Safety and Security (OGSS) without disclosing the traveler’s identity. Only the destination city and country is needed to provide a list of referrals.
Sometimes, a health care practitioner may advise postponing travel or selecting an alternate location where access to quality mental health services is more readily available.
For a student perspective on managing a mental health condition abroad, read "Welcoming the Rain in Ireland," an article from International Educator, July-Aug 15.
Learn About Taking Prescription Medication Abroad
All those traveling with medication abroad, prescription and over-the-counter, should carefully review the page on Traveling with medications.