Will Taking A Gap Year Help Your Depression?

Michael Huxley Simien Mountains Ethiopia

A lot of people who suffer from depression or any number of other mental health issues for that matter sometimes get this belief that travel will fix them, that travel will cure their depression, but will it? Is travel a magic panacea for the soul? Willtaking a gap year help your depression?

Many travellers who suffer with depression expect it to disappear as soon as they pack a bag and head off to explore the world. I hear it all the time and frankly it is a completely understandable and not unreasonable assumption.

I mean depression is a horrible and all consuming condition, and even for those who don’t suffer from it escaping the mundane stresses of daily life by travelling to somewhere exotic and awesome seems like a decent, viable plan to forget your troubles. Most of the gap year industry sells the idea of escaping your life and living your dream right? So why wouldn’t travel help depression too?

You are depressed at home, so surely being on a string of tropical islands, having awesome adventures by day and partying with amazing people by night should be an answer to that, right? Well it isn’t that simple.

Travel won’t fix your problems if you don’t deal with the underlying issues first. 

Depression isn’t like any other illness, it isn’t even one specific thing. It is a serious illness that affects how you feel, how you think, how you act and even affects your physical health, but it can present in a variety of ways ranging from low mood to clinical depression, anger, fatigue or even suicidal tendencies. The truth is there is no one specific presentation.

Depression is far more than simply feeling low or fed up for a few days, it is a real illness with real symptoms and requires clinical help to deal with. That is why travel in and of itself won’t just ‘fix you’.

Michael Huxley walking Aruba desert

Travel Is Not A Panacea.

Now don’t get me wrong travelling the world is an amazing thing that can have a profound and positive impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. It can change your life in so many positive ways and there are many ways it can heal you.

The first time I went to India for example, a long time ago now back in 2007, I was not in a very good place. I won’t bore you with my own personal demons, you don’t need to hear them and I am sure many of you have enough of your own to contend with, but suffice it to say I fully expected not to come back from that trip.

To cut a long story short I did end up coming back after a long period of self reflection and healing, and travelling did help with that, India herself helped with that in many ways, but what it didn’t do is ‘fix’ me.

Depression is something that can’t be fixed. Grief is something that can’t be fixed. Anxiousness, loss, fear, self loathing, sadness, trauma, these can’t be ‘fixed’. They are all things that have to be worked through and can heal, but can’t just be wished away by getting onto a plane.

You see running away from your problems is never a good long term solution. That problem will still be there no matter where you are or what you do, and you do have to take steps to help yourself with that before you can fully heal.

What Travel Can Do To Help.

Travel can help with that process of course, the simple fact that you want to use travel as a short term fix to help with your depression means that you are already instinctively looking for a solution, you are already looking for a way out, a way to help yourself, and that is a great first step. In fact I would say it is an essential first step.

Travel is not a cure all in and of itself, but what travel can help you with first and foremost is it will give you the time and space to heal.

Michael Huxley under a waterfall Michael Huxley Busay Waterfall Legazpi Philippines

It will allow you to concentrate on you and you alone. Travel will give you the time to deconstruct all that social crap to dig down and return to who you are and remember who you were before the world and this dark shadow got their claws into you. It will remind you of who you really are, and give you a purpose to get back to being that person again.

Travel, especially solo travel, will put you through a trial by fire, but it will also give you the strength, the self confidence and the iron will to come through the other side of it. Travel will turn you into a bigger, better, tougher and infinitely more awesome version of yourself.

And yes, travel will give you a lot of power and control over your own mental health. But that on its own isn’t a cure for depression.

Essentially travel will give you the strength, the tools and the means to help fight depression, but it won’t automatically fix it for you.

Only you can do that. Only you can deal with your depression. You can get help, in fact I encourage that, but it is you, and time, that will make that process work.

Don’t Let This Stop You From Travelling.

Travelling is still an amazing thing, it can still help you in many ways and even become part of your coping mechanism or healing process, I just don’t want anyone really suffering from depression to expect travel to cure it, it just won’t.

What I hope each and every one of you out there, if you are reading this and you are suffering from depression in any form, if you are suffering in that dark prison of your own mind, then deal with that first.

Please get help in whatever form that you need it. A friend, a helpline, professional clinical advice, hell even drop me an email if you need to, whatever form your help takes please just seek it out and use it. There is so much help out there waiting for you to access it, and remember, always remember that you are not alone and you never have to go through dealing with depression on your own.

Once you have done that, once you are taking steps to heal and take care of yourself mentally, even if it is still an ongoing process, then you can get out there into the world and really enjoy the places you are seeing in a whole different light. You canallow travel to become part of your healing process, because you know that no matter what, your depression isn’t holding you back any more and your happiness is not dependent on what you are doing or where you are at any given time.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

How To Deal With Anxiety And Fear Before Travelling.

How To Deal With Reverse Culture Shock After Your Gap Year.

How To Make Friends And Meet People When Travelling Solo.

It Really Is A Lonely Planet.

Solo Travel Makes You A Superhero!

Top 10 Tips For A Stress Free Trip.

Why Solo Travel Is Awesome!

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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13 comments on “Will Taking A Gap Year Help Your Depression?
  1. Kate says:

    Very insightful post and its nice to see a qualified opinion on this too rather than just an opinion piece, which are fine for what they are but still. Keep posting more like this!

  2. Leanne says:

    So much truth in this, it really isn’t something that can just be fixed. I hope you are in a good place and want you to know I love your work. I’m a huge fan of your blog and books and you don’t know this but you have helped and inspired me through some bad periods of my life. I have travelled through 10 countries because of your advice. Stay strong.

  3. Sarah says:

    I loved reading this, I think it is important that people who go through times like this know they aren’t alone. I suffered from depression a lot a few years ago so I didn’t know wether going through with my solo gap year at the time was a good idea (I was originally supposed to go with my then fiancee until he cheated on me) but it was the best thing I ever did. It didn’t cure it as such like you said but it did make me stronger and that helped me deal with everything.

  4. Daniel says:

    I had mental health issues during my gap year, and it isn’t a cure all you are right, but it does help. You have to look after yourself out there.

  5. Kim says:

    Such a great read, thank you for sharing.

  6. Will says:

    Great post. I think you are right, travel isn’t a silver bullet but you can take control of things.

  7. kayla101 says:

    Such an amazing post, thank your for sharing

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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