Mental health care after a medical emergency abroad

Facing a medical emergency abroad is difficult, physically and mentally. It can be disorientating to be ill in a country that’s not your home, and confusing trying to navigate an unfamiliar healthcare system – perhaps even in a foreign language. Feeling helpless and powerless in a high-stress situation can be traumatic, and although repatriation companies like EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation can help bring people home, the distress experienced before repatriation can have long-term consequences. It goes without saying that patients themselves suffer in these situations, but the impact on family members or friends present with the patient is often significant. Whoever you are, it is important to recognise the signs and take steps to look after yourself.

Mental health care

What does good mental health look like?

If you have good mental health, quoting the charity Mind, you are able to:

  • feel relatively confident in yourself – you value and accept yourself and judge yourself on realistic and reasonable standards
  • feel and express a range of emotions
  • feel engaged with the world around you – you can build and maintain positive relationships with other people and feel you can contribute to the community you live in
  • live and work productively
  • cope with the stresses of daily life and manage times of change and uncertainty.

People who have experienced acute distress or trauma often find they suddenly struggle with some or all of these aspects of life.

One mother of a patient remembers:

“I wasn’t able to function in the same way as before. The smallest things would completely overwhelm me. I couldn’t shake the memories, and each time, it was as if I was reliving the fear, again and again. It affected my sleep, my physical health – without realising, I developed bruxism (jaw clenching/teeth grinding) to the point my gums became inflamed. I suppose, it was my body’s way of telling me that,although my daughter was safe now, something was still wrong.”

Steps to look after your mental wellbeing after a medical emergency abroad

Below we list five recommendations on how to look after your emotional and mental wellbeing after experiencing a medical emergency abroad.

1. Keep talking to those around you

Experiencing trauma can be very isolating. But talking about how you feel with people you trust can make a big difference. The people around you can offer you advice, and help you to feel listened to and less alone.

2. Look after your physical health

There is a strong connection between mental health and physical health. Making enough time for sleep, eating a healthy diet, and being physically active can have a positive impact on your mental health. In addition, being outdoors and enjoying nature can also help you to feel calmer. As much as you are able to, keep doing the things that normally energize you and bring you joy.

3. Give yourself time

Make sure you allow yourself enough time to get better. Don’t try to carry on as if nothing happened. Take a break from your normal responsibilities where you can, and ask for help with tasks that have become hard.

4. Understand any symptoms you might have

The World Health Organisation provides a list of symptoms to look out for that might indicate that your mental health is suffering. They include:

  • physical symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, aches and pains;
  • crying, sadness, grief;
  • anxiety, fear;
  • being on guard, or jumpy;
  • insomnia, nightmares;
  • irritability, anger;
  • being confused, in a daze.

If you notice these symptoms, it might be wise to talk to a professional.

5. Talk to a professional if necessary

Even if you aren’t sure whether your mental health is suffering, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP after a traumatic experience, like a medical emergency abroad. They will be able to listen to you and are well placed to offer advice and/or put you in touch with the best help available in your area.

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