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How To Prepare for Traveling When Mentally Ill

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Updated September 10, 2008

In light of heightened security in air travel, illustrated by a traveler whose unstable bipolar disorder precipitated a deadly confrontation with U.S. Air Marshals, many people with severe mental illnesses are worried about traveling. One member of this community shares her frustration writing, “How are we supposed to get places when unstable?” Following are a few suggestions, many contributed by other community members, that may help alleviate some of these fears and make needed traveling more tolerable.

Time Required: Varied

Here's How:

  1. Speak with your healthcare provider about your travel plans and any concerns you may have. A one-time prescription or tweak to your current medications may help alleviate some of the anxiety and emotional upheaval common for those traveling.

  2. Be sure to take with you enough of each of your prescriptions to cover your entire trip. It would also be prudent to have several extra days of medications, just in case there is an unforeseen change in your travel plans. If you call your health insurance company and inform them of your travel plans, they will generally accommodate early refills.

  3. Carry your medications with you. Do not pack them in to your luggage. Checked luggage can be delayed or lost. If you are carrying your meds, it is one less thing you need to worry about. As per the Transportation Security Administration, all medications in any form or type and associated supplies are allowed through the security checkpoint once they have been screened.

  4. Review What to Know Before You Go, available through the Transportation Security Administration. This information, such as lists of prohibited items and expected wait times, can help you feel more secure in knowing what to expect. This site also includes valuable information for those with disabilities.

  5. Travel with someone you trust. A friend or relative can help you remember your medications, share the stress of traveling and help you remain calm. If you do not have someone, there are organizations that, for a fee, provide professional companion travelers. One such company is Accessible Journeys. They write, “All of our companions have excellent references, hands-on healthcare experience, extensive travel experience ....”

  6. Carry something with you that you find comforting and calming: a special picture, a cozy sweater, your favorite pillow, etc. This will give you something familiar as you move through new and changing settings during your travel.

  7. Give yourself plenty of extra time. Arrive at the airport early. It is much less stressful to sit and wait then to run headlong through the terminals trying to get through security checkpoints before the last boarding call.

  8. Prior to boarding and departure, you may want to consider notifying the airline personnel about your disability and speaking with them about any concerns you may have. Flight crews are aware of the presence of any air marshals among the passengers and will be able to give them a heads up regarding your condition.

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