• 64% of people have said Brexit is damaging mental health

  • Many therapists are seeing clients, whether Leave or Remain, who are concerned about Brexit

  • If you are affected by Brexit stress, find a therapist

There has been quite a lot in the news recently on the damaging effect of Brexit on our mental health. In a recent survey of some 2000 people, 64% felt that it was damaging their mental wellbeing. I was asked by a journalist about this and if I found these figures reflected in my own practice. 

It is an interesting question. The results of the referendum in 2016 had an immediate impact on my clients. Almost all were shocked, upset and to various degrees devastated. Both my clients and myself have had to adapt to the reality of Brexit. For my European clients it has led to disillusion and a loss of their sense of safety. Some have decided that their futures cannot lie in the UK. For others, the threat of a no-deal Brexit has hung very heavy since it could have serious economic consequences. 

I was thinking about the constant threat of ‘no-deal’. It is said that without the threat of ‘no-deal’ you can’t negotiate a good deal. It sounds obvious but is it? ‘No-deal’ is only a threat if the other negotiators believe you will use it. However, more importantly, our withdrawal from the EU is not just a business deal. It is a profoundly human event with human consequences and these need to be thought about honestly and openly. The inability to fully acknowledge this was apparent from the beginning. In the early months, the status of EU nationals in the UK was used as a pawn in the negotiations and the refusal to acknowledge the human cost of this uncertainty set the tone and I think increased the atmosphere where feelings of anxiety, outrage and helpless can and do flourish. It isn’t only foreign nationals who live with the uncertainty. It is all of us. None of us yet know what will be happening short or long term and uncertainty makes us feel less safe. 

At the limit we all rely on Government to care for its citizens. Health, education, defence, public safety, our laws, these are all critical functions of government. The better they function, the safer we feel and indeed the safer we are. A government in crisis, that is torn is not able to adequately fulfill these functions and our sense of safety is compromised. Thus, it is really no surprise that people feel their mental health is compromised. 

As children, we expect that our parents will look after us to the best of their ability. When this fails to happen, therapists see the consequences in their consulting rooms. Loss of trust in people, our institutions, damages mental health. We need to feel that we matter, and people care. It could be argued that the failure of government in recent years to fulfill this function led to Brexit. The word ‘divorce’ is used for our leaving Europe and it is a meaningful analogy. Ideally in a divorce, the adults will be sensible and think of the bigger picture, putting the interests of the children above their own immediate interests. At the moment, I think UK citizens feel something like children of warring parents. Politicians might mouth the platitudes of what is best for their citizens, but their own feeling and interests have become paramount and trump everything. The loss of trust in our political system will have consequences. How it all pans out we have yet to see but it is perhaps no coincidence that despite the economic uncertainty, my practice and the practices of my colleagues have never been busier.

Further reading

Is Brexit bad for anxiety?

Family fallout over Brexit

Post-Brexit shame: What therapy clients are feeling

In or out: Don't let Brexit ruin your relationships