Travel is said to broaden the mind – but it can also damage it, experts say.
In an unprecedented move, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a warning that the stress of international travel can lead to mental disorder in vulnerable people. For the first time, the global health agency has included detailed guidance on the psychological impact of travel in its annual publication International Travel And Health.
Almost one billion people leave home to venture abroad each year, just over half of them tourists going on holiday, and mental problems are "among the leading causes of ill-health among travellers", it says.
"Psychiatric emergency" is one of the most common medical reasons for evacuation by air ambulance, along with injury and heart disease, the WHO report says. Up to 100 patients a week are brought back to the UK by air ambulance, according to the British Ambulance Association, and many more are returned on commercial aircraft, mostly accompanied by medical staff.
FlyMeNow, an air charter company based in York, said it had flown a man with bipolar disorder from Egypt back to Manchester last October, after he became manic while on holiday with his wife. "He had to be sedated for the flight; he was stretchered on to the plane and police were waiting when it landed in Manchester. He was taken to hospital where he was stabilised on drugs and discharged the next day," said Andrew Whitney, the commercial director. The cost of £25,000 was paid by the family, who did not have travel insurance.
Dan Sanders, of Oxford-based Air Medical, said the company had flown a woman from Ireland back to Germany last year accompanied by "four to five" security escorts. "There had been some violence on an earlier flight but when she got in a light plane she was fine. I think she realised no one was watching – she had no audience," he added.
Extreme anxiety such as phobia of flying is a key problem faced by travellers, and is involved in 3.5 per cent of all medical in-flight emergencies. People who suffer panic attacks may feel more comfortable in an aisle seat when travelling by plane, the WHO adds. It warns anxiety sufferers to avoid caffeine, certain over-the-counter cold medications and the anti-malarial drug mefloquine (brand name Lariam), which has been linked with psychotic episodes in some people.