FCO’s excellent advice on travelling and mental health can be of use to group tour operators

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Having helped resolve more incidents than I care to mention of people who suffer from mental health problems when travelling overseas, it is great to see the FCO updating their information guide on the subject.  From ex-military staff suffering from the ravages of post-conflict PTSD to teenagers self-harming and threatening suicide whilst travelling on organised school trips, such situations are always complex to deal with and support.  In some countries, the logistics of reaching initial mental health specialist support can be very difficult.

The issue appears to be increasing so responsible tour operators cannot ignore it.  The FCO states that “from 2009/10 to 2014/15 the number of British nationals with mental health needs requiring help from the FCO increased by 48% globally”.

We have worked on many cases where travellers need to return home since their health cannot be managed locally and this can be a complex (and sometimes costly) undertaking for caring and responsible tour operators.  Whilst the majority of financial costs associated with medical support should be covered by the individual’s travel insurance, there can be other impacts that affect tour operators.  Some costs will not be covered by insurance and, whilst stigmas remain, many travellers simply elect not to disclose their mental health medical history.

Some initial tips and advice are shown below, with more details in the updated FCO guide.

  • Pre-travel communication.  Tour operators should ensure that their pre-departure trip information specify mental health alongside other health and fitness matters.  We always advise operators to communicate health and fitness matters clearly and proactively, without burying it in the small print of booking conditions.  Tour operators can also ‘signpost’ customers to external advice, and the new FCO leaflet is ideal for this purpose.

  • Travel insurance.  Ensure customers are informed that travel insurance needs to cover mental health.  If cases are already diagnosed, these pre-existing ones need to be notified to the insurer in advance.  Policies should be selected that include treatment and repatriation costs as a minimum.   In acute mental health repatriations, the costs of returning home with a specialist medical escort can be considerable.

  • Medication.   Ensure travellers are reminded to take sufficient medication with them as it might not be available locally.  Customers should also be reminded to research whether their medication is legal in the destination, and any transit countries, and that it is clearly labeled.  It may also be advisable for travellers to carry a letter from their doctor to explain the prescription.

  • Planning and procedures.  Tour operators should plan for what to do if customers with mental health problems need help whilst travelling.  For example, researching local facilities, working with ground handlers on local logistical arrangements and ensuring that details of customers’ travel insurance are held on file.

Pharos fully supports the FCO’s initiative in advance of World Mental Health Day on 10 October.  More details and a copy of the FCO guidance leaflet can be found here.

#WMHD travel tip: Check your health insurance covers any pre-existing #MentalHealth conditions