Thursday, September 15, 2011

R U OK? - Even travellers can get depressed


Here in Australia today it's R U OK? Day. It's a day when we are encouraged to "check up" on people we're worried about; it's a time when we are reminded that talking about mental health issues like depression and suicide is really important. Many Australian bloggers have got behind the cause by posting about depression and suicide and you can read a bunch of them below, although I'd like to make special mention of a series of posts by my lovely friend Rachel at Because I Said So - I'd highly recommend reading her series called Dave, R U OK?, parts one, two and three.

When it comes to travel blogs, I'm pretty sure many people would think that talking about depression has no place here. After all, travel's all about fun and following your dreams and getting away from "real life". But do stop and think - because obviously, nobody's immune to suffering from depression and with the Australian stats showing one in five adults will experience depression at some stage, the odds are there that some of these people will be travellers and in fact, there are even some good reasons why some people will suffer depression while travelling - especially longer term travel like I've done.


Homesickness can be an obvious cause of depression - I remember during my first weeks in Japan that several fellow English teachers who had been in our training course in the first few days had returned to their home countries because they were so homesick. Culture shock and dealing with sometimes scary and different situations can also tip some travellers into depression. 

Fortunately, my own story is kind of opposite. I suffered from an anxiety disorder in my early twenties - and looking back, probably some undiagnosed depression as well - and before I moved to Japan I was concerned about what would happen if my anxiety flared up again. In fact, I remember having some nightmares about the scenario of suffocating in one of those jam-packed Japanese trains at peak hour. But in my case, getting away from Australia seemed the perfect cure and I only ever felt anxious at very appropriate moments (like being in a speeding Egyptian taxi on a dark road with no headlights, for example).

Probably the nearest I came to travel causing me something close to depression was when I returned to live in Australia after almost six years away. Getting past my reverse culture shock was quite a trying time and I was lucky to have almost ideal circumstances - I think that for others, the shock of returning to "normal life" could be a lot more difficult to deal with.


So in the spirit of R U OK? Day, I'd love all my travelling and non-travelling friends to keep it in mind that we really need to talk about how we're feeling and to check in our fellow travellers (on the road and in life in general) now and again. And for my readers who are on the road on long-term trips, especially, do remember to look after your mental health as well - it can be lonely out there, it can be not what you expect, and it can be hard to find someone to talk to - so take care.


5 comments:

  1. it is oh so very true that even travellers can get depressed. i can remember having overwhelming homesickness at times too when i was on my longer overseas stints. sometimes it felt like it could be easier to just go home. lickily that feeling passed quickly and we got on with enjoying and experiencing.
    i think that the first couple of months in a new country are the hardest but once you get past that its much easier - something I used to tell our students when they were struggling too.
    Always good to have someone to reach out to when you need it though and not just suppress your emotions.
    thanks for the shout out too lovely xxx

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  2. oh my goodness... must remember to proof read
    lickily!!! should be luckily...obviously!

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  3. No worries :-) I'd forgotten about all our foreign students who at times had trouble fitting into Australian life and who certainly were feeling pretty down at times. I hope I helped some of them out with the right words at the right time.

    I think I was lucky when I was overseas - I never really felt homesick. Except for the various overseas "homes" that I've left!

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  4. Thanks for visiting my blog! I am not sure that being a traveller or not has much relation to depression. You can't get away from what's inside your own mind that easily but travel can often offer a distraction. As a kid I went to lots of different schools A change of scene can make all the difference.

    RUOK Day is a really good idea, I don't know why they don't have it here. I will certainly check on a few people I know, even though the day has now passed!

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  5. Thanks for writing this post. Though it's been nearly a year since you wrote it, the points you made are still relevant. While traveling the world seems exciting and glamorous and it can be hard to believe that travelers feel depressed when they're seeing new things and meeting new people every day, it is a very real issue that they deal with.

    Those who are committed to a life on the road but struggle with depression, stress or burn out might be interested in spending some time at the New Life Foundation in northern Thailand. This lovely, low-cost center welcomes people who are looking to recover and make changes in their lives. They have the opportunity to meet with a life coach on a regular basis, and practice yoga, meditation, sports and art therapy as part of their transition. I've spent some time volunteering there and it really is a fantastic place with an admirable mission, and the community is open and supportive. They teach healing through mindfulness, and anyone who is prone to depression might benefit from the practices they will learn here. The foundation website is: http://www.newlifethaifoundation.com/

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