College years bring opportunities to explore the world. Young adults are adept at traveling light, but today many carry the weight of living with a mental health condition. They may be traveling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or a more serious condition, or, as often happens, a new condition might emerge when an adolescent leaves home for the first time (for reasons Vikram Tarugu cites in The Real World: Recognizing Illness in Young Adults.)

Early diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions are crucial, so it’s important for students abroad or hoping to go abroad to discuss any suspected symptoms with a mental health professional.  Fortunately, the latest medications and therapies enable diagnosed young people to go pretty much wherever they want without fear and with the blessing of school officials. Coming forward to seek treatment won’t disqualify students from a study abroad program, but it will help ensure that steps are taken to arrange proper treatment and support in the host country.

Finding the right practitioner can be a challenge; in many cultures, physicians are not accustomed to prescribing medications for mental health conditions. Even in a western European country such as Germany, a search may need to be undertaken to find a doctor that will provide care consistent with a treatment plan prescribed in the U.S.

And there are other hurdles as well. Psychiatric medications are typically controlled substances and bringing them across an international border may be illegal. For example, the common ADHD drug Adderall is banned in China, Argentina, the United Arab Emirates and the countries of Western Europe.

Even when legal, medications often vary by brand name and dosage, so getting a prescription filled or refilled can be problematic.  There are tools to help travelers figure these things out, but it’s obviously better to know about them before setting off on your journey. For example, at HTH Worldwide, we have an online and mobile translation tool that finds generic and brand equivalents for over 350 commonly prescribed medications.

Careful preparation may not always be enough because symptoms may first arise upon reaching the destination and may be misinterpreted as culture shock, stress or anxiety. We’ll talk more about that in future postings but in the meantime, remember the importance of self-awareness.   If these conditions persist, they may be symptoms of a larger problem that could be diagnosed and treated by qualified professionals nearby before the situation gets severe.

Certainly, increased understanding and advanced treatment methods have made world travel easier for students. But barriers remain. We have still miles to go to raise awareness of what it takes to keep students healthy while traveling.


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