EMS Ambulance 17 Sep 2021
Repatriating someone with a mental health condition
When it comes to medical evacuations, physical emergencies are usually the first thing that comes to mind. A bad fall. A heart attack or stroke. A positive COVID case far from home that suddenly needs intensive care.
But the truth is that many medical emergencies are rooted in mental health issues rather than accidents or physical illnesses. Indeed the numbers seem to be increasing. The World Health Organisation says there has been a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders globally since 2017, and that as many as 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental health condition.
Every year here at EMS, we get calls from dozens of anxious family members whose relatives have suffered a mental health crisis abroad. Often the contact comes from a desperate parent whose child has been travelling or working in a foreign country. They’ve just been phoned by a doctor or embassy worker to say their child has been taken to hospital after a psychiatric emergency, a drugs overdose, even a suicide attempt. Sometimes the police or local authorities have become involved. Often the patient has lost their belongings or travel documents as well.
Understandably, the whole situation can be extremely distressing, especially when your loved one is thousands of miles away. Many parents are just desperate to get their children back home for treatment as soon as possible.
Taking the next steps: why sensitivity is key
Mental health emergencies can be a delicate topic. Parents who contact us often feel quite sensitive or cautious about discussing what’s happened – particularly if it involves recreational drugs or alcohol abuse, or if their child has been taken into custody. One of the first things we do is to offer reassurance. Incidents like this are much more common than people tend to think. We’ve helped hundreds of families in similar situations: patients who’ve suffered psychiatric breakdowns, people with severe panic attacks, youngsters who’ve been imprisoned or hospitalised after overdoses, and so on. From our perspective, the key thing is to establish the essential facts so we can get help to the patient as soon as possible. So: what happened, to the best of your knowledge? Where is the patient now and what’s their current condition? Who is your key point of contact in the foreign country?
Working out the best option for getting home
There are several different options for repatriating a loved one with a mental health condition. In the majority of cases, it’s possible to take them on a regular commercial flight. This would happen with a trained medical escort – or even a team of paramedics and doctors – travelling alongside them for the whole journey, from initial ambulance pickup through to airport transfers and the final leg to your home or hospital. Everything they could need for the journey goes with the escort team, including medicines and sedatives where necessary, and they’ll take care of all the airport connections and luggage transfers. We always fly business class if it’s available, so our patient can lie down during the flight. If an escort isn’t possible for any reason, the other option is a private air or road ambulance. Here we can arrange a very fast and direct transfer that’s entirely tailored around your patient and their medical needs.
Preparing the repatriation in the right way
Besides being very upsetting, cases like this are often terribly confusing for families on the other end of the phone line. Depending on the country and languages involved, they may struggle to understand the authorities who’ve contacted them. They’re often unsure about how to get clearance for their child’s journey – or even if the doctors or police officers will permit them to leave. Once the EMS team gets involved, we can take all these concerns on for you. We get in touch with the embassy staff and authorities on the ground to establish what’s possible, using translators where necessary. We can arrange for travel documents and identifications if the originals have been lost. We also contact the local hospital team for a full assessment, so we can assess the patient’s condition and their immediate needs, and start the process of clearing them for homeward travel. One of our main tasks is to reassure them too. Many of them are in a very vulnerable state, so we always spend a day – sometimes longer – meeting and coming alongside them before the journey. We want to make sure they’re OK and that they have everything they need, that we can calm them if necessary, and that we can prepare them for a safe trip home to the people who know them best.
If you’re searching for a medevac company to help your child or loved one get home safely from abroad, please drop our team a line today. They’ll be very happy to talk through the potential options and explain how everything works.