Mind Matters — Brexit and Us

The United States of America may have gained its independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, but there remains an almost parental - adult child bond. Considering how many similarities we share, it might behoove us to consider the stress the Brits are experiencing given the tenor of their Brexit times. We too are suffering a national stress.

The American Psychological Association Monitor (July/August 2019) features a report by Rebecca Clay on “Brexit Blues.”

Brexit—the plan of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union—is directly affecting the mental health of UK residents. “Regardless of whether you voted to stay or leave” says Chiara Lombardi, PhD, many people polled in March, 2019, expressed difficulties. The survey found a large segment of the population were feeling powerless, angry, or worried, or a combination thereof.

Sleep has been affected for some, and others report a rise in relationship and family conflicts due to differing opinions about Brexit. Antidepressant prescriptions have also risen.

Stress researcher Brian Hughes, PhD, notes that if a recession occurs due to the enforcement of Brexit, there will be further mental health repercussions. He recalls that the 2008 recession coincided with a rise in suicides, along with a rise in unemployment.

Of course, it is common knowledge among researchers in the fields of medicine and mental health that stress impacts physical health. Constant physiological arousal causes damage to various organs such as the heart. Furthermore, people often resort to unhealthy behaviors to allay the stress—such as smoking, alcohol or drugs, eating poorly, or not exercising. Medications will become more costly without trade with fellow EU nations. People have started stockpiling their medicines (and food also!).

There are added stressors for immigrants and social and ethnic minorities due to the xenophobia and racism stoked by Brexit, which in part was to limit immigration. Hate crimes have more than doubled in the past five years. Minorities were protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of cultural and religious diversity, sexual orientation, and other factors.” British law may fall short of that inclusivity.

Organizational psychologist, Richard Plenty, PhD, reports that companies and organizations are finding it difficult to plan. There are worries about supply shortages, travel difficulties, employees.

Seventy per cent of the UK’s young adults voted to remain in the EU. They are particularly concerned for their future. Students will no longer have the funds to study at more affordable universities in the EU. Academics and universities more than ever have become global—sharing research, assets, faculty, and students. Brexit could quash the free flow of higher learning.

Ironically, as Brexit issues stress the populace and there becomes more need for mental health clinicians in the National Health System, fewer will be available. That is because many of the clinicians who come to the UK are from the EU. Now even the EU psychologists who had chose to reside in the UK are stressed because their status as citizens with rights will be abrogated with Brexit. What they thought was a safe place to live as a citizen of the EU will be no more. They feel betrayed.

What is the lesson in the Brexit story for us, the US? You decide.