It has been estimated by the World Health Organization that one in four people around the world will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives, and around 450 million people currently already suffer from a mental disorder. This makes mental illness among the number one causes of disability and poor health worldwide. ‘Mental illness’ is a term that encompasses a large variety of conditions that are not presently covered by a majority of travel insurers.
What is Mental Illness?
In terms of travel insurance, a mental illness can be defined as any sickness, disorder, or condition listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Under this definition, mental illness includes nervous conditions, behavioural issues, and a variety of addictions and substance use. Some travel insurers insist that, to be considered to have a mental illness, one needs to have been given a clinical diagnosis by a medical practitioner. Often, insurers also require that a mental health treatment plan has been prescribed, though this is more of an exception than a rule.
What Should Travelers be Aware of?
It is only under the ‘general exclusions’ section of the travel insurers’ Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) where mention of mental illnesses is found. This highlights the importance of reading through this document carefully. Moreover, unlike many other conditions that fall within the scope of pre-existing medical conditions, there is rarely any distinction between pre-existing mental illnesses and an undiagnosed mental disorder.
Such an issue was recently brought to light in a legal challenge where a trip was booked and paid for an overseas school trip late in 2011, but prior to departure, a student was diagnosed with major depression and was hence advised to cancel her trip. Even though she had no history of depression or any other mental illness, the claim for the canceled trip was denied by the travel insurance company. Sadly, this experience is not unique, with other travelers having similar claims relating to mental health incidents denied, despite the absence of pre-existing conditions, or ones that they were previously aware of.
While this particular legal challenge was successful, it unfortunately hasn’t resulted in any major changes as to how mental health claims are treated by travel insurers. Interestingly, some insurers do now include cover – either as standard or as an extra policy – for claims arising from mental health issues. However, the responsibility lies on the traveler to check for this, which they can do using travelinsurance.com.au.
How to Travel with a Mental Illness
Individuals diagnosed with - or previously having being treated for - a mental illness should always look for a travel insurance policy that includes mental health-related claims cover. Equally importantly, they should also ensure the diagnosis comes from a fully qualified medical practitioner, while following all advice given by their doctor regarding travel (i.e. precautions, medication, etc.).
In some cases, individuals with a mental illness will be aware of triggers and situations they should avoid and should thus make all travel arrangements with these in mind. In situations where a mental health treatment plan has been prescribed, it should be followed for the duration of the trip, and individuals should always ensure they pack enough prescription medication for the duration of their travels.
All medication should be retained in their original packaging, and individuals must carry a copy of the prescription with their travel documents. Further, border crossings can be made simpler and less stressful by keeping the doctor’s letter that lists all prescription medication, along with what each drug is used to treat, and the dosages.
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