Flying for mental health patients - What are your transportation options?

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With flying being a stressful experience for many, the impact is even more severe for individuals with mental health issues. Known as the most ‘ defenseless travelers’, they must be treated in the same way as other patients, even if their ‘disease’ is not physical. There are two things that must be taken into consideration when it comes to traveling with mental health patients:

  1. Will their condition hamper the safe conduct of the flight?
  2. Will the flight aggravate their mental condition? 

As a general rule, patients with mild psychiatric issues, such as depression or obssessive compulsive disorders, are able to travel, provided that their condition is stable and that their medication, if required, is taken regularly. Nonetheless, these two prerequisites often require supervision. 

Risks of flying for mental health patients 

According to the World Health Organization, the three main health emergencies in the world of air travel are mental illness, physical injury and cardiac arrest. One of the main problems having to be dealt with is psychotic decompensation, which can even happen to individuals having no history of mental health problems.

This refers to episodes during which someone’s mental state/health or psychiatric disorder progressively heightens. Such episodes can be triggered by phobias such as a fear of flying, small cramped spaces and in the case of mental health patients, they are often disoriented by the unknown, by the sheer act of traveling. Patients with mental health issues are more vulnerable to psychotic decompensation, which may become severe while traveling. 

mental problem

To put it simply, traveling presupposes several circumstances that may deteriorate a mental health patient’s condition, causing turmoil both for the patient and in some cases, for other passengers and the cabin crew during the flight. Moreover, the risks are even greater for long-haul flights and for the elderly. 

Some of the risk factors triggering a mental breakdown might be unfamiliarity with the airport, the crowd, foreign languages, the general excitement related to travel, alcohol, the wrong medication, motion sickness, dehydration and others, resulting in the traveler losing control of his mental capabilities. 

Option 1: Flying is possible with an escort

Because of their vulnerable state of mind and to avoid exacerbating their condition, it is advised that mental health patients with conditions such as Post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorders to fly with an escort. While this can be a relative or family member, the escort must be acquainted to the patient’s condition and have enough knowledge on how to tackle an emergency. Considering that while flying, you are venturing into unknown territory, without the confort and familiarity of your home, tending to the needs of a mental health patient might prove to be difficult. Knowledge on how to provide care within a small crowded space while traveling is essential, which is why a medical escort is the safer option. 

medical escort

Medical Air Service, specializing in several forms of patient transportation, ensures that its medical escorts are qualified, experienced and suitable for the particular mission on hand, especially in cases of paranoia. When leveraging the services of one of our medical escorts, you can rest assured that you will obtain a professional who is not only skilled at delivering care mid-flight but also someone whose character and personality are suited to the patient so that the patient is able to remain calm and at ease during the entire flight. Our medical escort will accompany the patient, right from his doorstep if needed, until he reaches his destination. He will assist the mental health patient at every step of the trip, provide reassurances, care and treatment if needed and ensure that his condition is stable.

Option 2: Severe mental health patients can fly in air ambulances

The severity of the mental health patient’s condition can play a huge role in determining whether he can travel on a commercial flight. In cases of unpredictable, uncontrollable and erratic behaviour caused by conditions like schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar affective disorders or dissociation and dissociative disorders, that may cause disturbances during the flight or those needing advanced and constant medical support and care, flying commercially is impossible. This is also the case when it comes to behavioural and emotional disorders in children

 For one, the airline company reserves the right to refuse access to someone with a mental health problem on board their plane. Secondly, even medical escorts are limited in their duties since they are not equipped enough, having only emergency medical equipment on hand, to provide the treatment needed. 

Nonetheless, even patients with severe mental health problems like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can travel thanks to air ambulances. These are chartered jets that are fitted with medical equipment. With a medical crew, consisting of a doctor and paramedic on board, patients can travel safely under constant medical supervision. Since an air ambulance is private, it will be dedicated to the mental health patient. There is no risk of the airline company refusing access to the patient, no disturbance to other passengers and the reassurance that medical professionals will be able to intervene freely in case an intervention is needed. 

ambulance jet

Precautions to take when flying with mental health patients 

When booking a service with Medical Air Service, be it a medical escort or an air ambulance, we are going to take care of everything to ensure a smooth flight. One of the requirements, before undertaking any travel plans for patients is to ensure that they are fit to fly. These are based on prior medical assessments, medical certificates or doctor’s approval. When planning your trip, our agents will ensure that the flight will not be detrimental to the patient’s condition. 

Moreover, following an assessment of the patient’s condition and needs, we will make sure that our air ambulances are fitted with the necessary equipment and that our doctors are specialized in that particular condition and have the appropriate medication on hand to care for the patient en-route. 

Contact us to arrange a flight for a mental health patient 

Get in touch with if your loved one with a mental health problem needs to fly. Whether they are traveling for treatment abroad, to visit some relatives, on vacation or they are coming back home from overseas, we will design a solution to ensure that they can travel and reach their destination safely. Our agents are working round the clock and they will advise you on the best solution going forward depending on your needs.

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