I don’t think there is anyone in the country who doesn’t know about Brexit. It has bulldozed all other political and societal issues out of the way and taken the centre stage in all discussions for the past 2+ years. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I am getting fed up with Brexit. The way that it is being handled and the party political agendas are making this a nightmare. Regardless of which way you voted in the referendum, or your views on Brexit now, it is important that people are aware of the hidden mental health issues that are and could still be arising because of Brexit.
The uncertainty of Brexit
One of the biggest causes of the mental health epidemic within the UK and other EU countries is uncertainty. It seems that everyday something big happens that changes the course of Brexit. Hamira Riaz, a clinical psychologist in the UK, isn’t surprised that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is causing mental health issues. She explains that having important marital issues affected by decisions made on a national level is a very negative life event. Facing such negative life events can really tip people over the edge into experiencing depression and anxiety.
According to a report released by the Mental Health Foundation 4 in 10 people report feelings of powerlessness (43%), anger (39%) or worriedness (38%) because of Brexit in the last year. If this was generalised to the entire population that would mean around 22 million people are struggling due to the uncertain political situation we find ourselves in. This problem seems to be similar for leave and remain votes. As expected the negative wellbeing is worse for remain voters (59%) but the difference isn’t as big as you would think with 34% of leave voters also reporting these types of feelings. An LSE study further added to the support that the mental distress between leave and remain votes isn’t large. They found increased levels of “mental distress” post-referendum on a data set of 35,000 people with no significant differences found between leave and remain voters.
The farmer epidemic.
Since the referendum, a lot of farmers have felt regret for voting leave. They feel misinformed about the role the EU plays in providing subsidies. In 2013, farmers received €2.6bn (about £2.2bn) under Pillar 1 [an EU funding term] and €637m (£538m) for agri-environment and rural development under ‘green’ Pillar 2. Currently, 73% of the UK’s total agri-food exports are to EU countries.
Obviously, the effect of losing a 500 million customer base could affect farmer’s livelihoods. Farmers are already at risk of mental health problems due to the uncertainty surrounding their jobs (the dependence on weather for crop growth, illness within livestock, reduced demand from supermarkets) and this risk could increase dramatically due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. A spokesperson from the Farmers Union reported phone calls from farmers who are distressed and losing hope, with some even on suicide watch.
Farmers are calling UK leaders to ensure that they are able to continue working and earning a living. The issues affecting farmers highlight how the problems ingrained in the Brexit discussions are far reaching throughout society.
The effect on mental health resources post Brexit.
An estimated 165,000 NHS workers are EU nationals and although those that are already in the UK may be able to apply to stay, it is expected that domestic recruitment won’t be able to meet the demand. This is even more prevalent when it comes to mental health workers with one in eight psychiatric consultants qualifying in the EU or the EEA.
An NHS briefing said that Brexit’s impact on mental health would be “far-reaching.” Mental health services have traditionally been underfunded, so on top of the lack of available workers, the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit will mean many NHS leaders remain concerned about the future and growth of mental health services.
This means that not only is the uncertainty caused by Brexit leading to increased mental health issues in farmers, EU nationals, those linked to EU/UK nationals through families and the general public, but the resources to help these people will be lacking. This is a very serious problem and a lot of work and resources needs to be put towards developing reliable and accessible mental health services.
How to cope with mental health issues?
If you find yourself struggling with any form of mental illness, it is important to remember that you are not alone. It is not your fault and you deserve to heal. Speaking to others who are going through the same issues in a constructive and supportive way can really help. As can talking to people you feel close to or getting professional help. You can use this resource to find therapists near you.
Other techniques for dealing with stress, anxiety and similar mental health issues are:
- Go for a walk: find a quiet and peaceful spot and walk. Look at the birds, the trees, watch where you are putting your feet. Just remain present. Researchers have found that spending just 5 minutes out in nature doing light exercise, like walking, can boost your mood and self-esteem.
- Prepare a delicious meal: choose a meal that you really enjoy and make it at home. Whilst cooking our minds are often focused purely on the task in hand and this can help reduce feelings of anxiety or stress. Plus, you get to eat a delicious meal.
- Relaxation: whatever this is to you, prioritise time to do something nice for yourself. Get a massage, take a bath, read a book, or listen to music. Just giving your body time to relax will help to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Move your body: Exercise can really help reduce feelings of anxiety. Doing yoga, going for a gentle run, or walk can help to boost the feel-good hormone in your body. This will leave you feeling happier and more positive.
- Quiet the mind: meditation and yoga are the perfect way to quiet the mind. If you are new to it you can go to a class and get guidance if you don’t want to pay or leave your home there are tonnes of resources out there online.
- Take control: feelings of helplessness often lead to increased levels of anxiety. Try to take actions that are going to reduce the negative life event. Options on how to do this in regards to Brexit are below.
Whatever you choose to do, remember that your mental health and happiness is the most important thing.
Brexit: What Next?
Although I am a firm remainer, this article is aimed at everyone. I want to spread awareness about the mental health crisis happening in the UK now. I want to make people aware so they can check in on their friends and relatives. Whilst I hope this article spreads more awareness and causes people to think about what the EU does for us, my main aim is to encourage people to come together. We are all going through this uncertainty together regardless of our EU views. At the end of the day, we are all humans and all want to be happy, so let’s make that a bit easier for each other.
However, if this article did leave you wanting to have your say on the Brexit deal, there are numerous grassroots campaigns around the country. The main groups are People’s Vote, Best for Britain, and Our Future Our Choice (this is aimed towards younger people). All of these groups run campaigns and marches if you want to get involved. There is also the now famous petition with over 6,000,000 signatures which you can sign if you so want to: Revoke article 50 petition.