Air travel psychosis

BBC News reports on a review paper published in this week’s Lancet on the effects of jet lag – which can include mood changes, cognitive impairments, disruption to the menstrual cycle and psychotic experiences.

Disrupted sleep is often linked to psychosis, and interestingly, both airports and jet lag have been mentioned in the medical literature in relation to this.

In a curious 1982 paper, Shapiro reported a series of cases where individuals with psychosis were found wandering airports, and suggested, rather boldly, that ‘airport wandering’ could be a psychotic symptom.

Nevertheless, some more recent research has suggested this isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

A 2001 study by Udo Wieshmann and colleagues looked at people treated for severe mental illness over a four year period at Heathrow Airport.

Although the rate was very low (less than one in a million passengers), for those that did show signs of psychosis, ‘airport wandering’ was one of the most frequent symptoms.

Disruption to our internal ‘body clock’, the circadian rhythm, has been linked to various psychotic disorders over the years and jet lag is known to make mental illness worse in some people.

The fact that being jet lag can also cause temporary or transient psychosis-like experiences in some people, as reported in The Lancet paper, suggests that sleep disruption may play a part in both minor and major reality distortions.

Luckily, this week’s mp3 podcast from The Lancet interviews one of the study authors who talks about the health effects of jet lag, and also gives advice on coping with it as effectively and healthily as possible.

Link to BBC News story ‘Frequent flyers ‘risk own health”.
Link to abstract of Lancet paper.
Link to paper ‘Severe mental illness and airports – the scope of the problem’.
mp3 of Lancet podcast on the effects of jet lag.

2 thoughts on “Air travel psychosis”

  1. I published several papers on Airport Psychosis and Airport Wandering and would be happy to give you the references or send along reprints.

    1. Dear Stanley Shapiro, m.d,

      My name is Tim Banks and I am training to be a Mental Health Nurse at the University of Hertfordshire, England. I am currently completing an assignment for the module ‘Using Research and Evidence to Enhance Mental Health Nursing Care’. We have been asked to select a topic of interest to us and critique and appraise the research and evidence available.

      I was previously employed as a Flight Attendant for Virgin Atlantic Airways. From this and my current field of study, I became interested in
      the subject of Jet Lag and its links to Psychiatric Morbidity. Through Health Care
      databases I have viewed studies that highlight Jet Lag and the possible link to causing a relapse in psychiatric disorders. I was hoping that you would be able to offer me any further information in regards to the subject or if you could forward me any relevent studies/papers you have published. Thank you for taking the time to read this email and I look forward to your reply.

      Yours sincerely

      Tim Banks

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