Friday, November 30, 2007

Severe mental illness and traveling for the holidays

For many families, the holidays frequently mean a time for travel, with loved ones flying in from around the country. Unfortunately travel, especially flying, has become more and more difficult. This is especially true for families whose loved one may be symptomatic or otherwise struggling with a severe mental illness. As always, advance preparation is essential.

Here are some questions to make sure you have answered before you travel:

Do you have your CARE kit packed? Documented medical history, treatment preferences, and lists of medications are essential information to have if you’re dealing with an emergency in a new state.

Have you spoken to your loved one’s treatment providers to get their advice? Some obvious issues to address include ensuring your loved one has enough medication for the trip and prescription refills, but it’s equally important to discuss things like going through security at an airport and the stress of numerous family commitments.

If you are traveling to another state, make sure you know as much as you can about their treatment process. For example, if a crisis was to occur, would you know what that state’s emergency treatment laws require and how the process works? Laws vary widely from state to state. Never assume that what works in one will automatically work in another.

It never hurts to call the local NAMI chapter in the area you’re traveling to. In a crisis situation, having a contact that is familiar with the process and players in a state can be very beneficial.

Never assume that judicial determinations, treatment orders, or conservatorships will automatically be enforced in different states. In fact, they normally don’t. It pays to speak to someone knowledgeable in your state before you leave; again advance preparation is essential.

Have you thought about the added complications created by air travel? We have heard from far too many families who end up with a loved one essentially “stuck” in a state, not sick enough to meet that state’s commitment criteria, but far too ill to safely navigate air travel.