5 Ways How Brexit Has Impacted Mental Health and Tips to Help
Brexit has undoubtedly created distress, confusion and many questions for a lot of us.
This blog post will focus on ways that BREXIT has impacted on our mental health and tips that I think might help.
A Little Bit of Background
Take yourself way back to 2016, and you might remember that a referendum was held in the UK. This vote was to determine whether the UK wished to stay or withdraw from the EU.
The result showed that 52% of those that voted to leave (with a relatively high turnout of 72%). The reasons for voting leave (and remain) remain complex and personal. It's also worthwhile highlighting that Scotland, Northern Ireland and the UK capital, London, voted to stay.
Following a long and protracted process, the UK formally left the EU in January 2020 but continues to participate in the single market and customs union. This arrangement, aka the 'transition', means that the UK continues to adhere to many of the EU rules. It also means that many continue to enjoy many of the benefits.
This transition period was established to provide time for the EU and the UK to develop an agreement on their future relationship, including trade. This arrangement is set to end in January 2021. The future relationship is still being negotiated.
5 Ways Brexit Has Impacted Your Mental Health
1. Feeling Powerless against Change
As politicians in the UK and EU argue over what the new relationship between the UK and the EU will look like, it becomes starkly evident that our power to influence situations like these is incredibly limited.
You may support or disapprove of the direction of travel in negotiations but whether you do or not, what can you do about it?
Your mind might be flooded with questions:
How's the economy going to cope?
How will I be able to travel?
What will happen in Ireland?
What about my family abroad?
What about my Erasmus+ placement?
These feelings and thoughts are entirely understandable.
2. Post-Brexit Racism, Xenophobia and Hate Crime
The UK government has reported a significant increase in hate crime in recent years. The majority of reported hate crime has persistently been based on race.
Police reported a stark increase in hate crime incidents being reported following events such as the EU referendum.
Experiencing racism and living within an environment with increased tensions challenges our mental health. For example, increasing stress levels, impacting on our sense of belonging, increasing isolation and creating a falsehood that we are somewhat less worthy or less human due to being who you are.
You're more likely to experience hate crime when you identify with multiple vulnerable factors. These compound meaning that there is increased vulnerability for those that are members of a variety of underrepresented communities. For example, if you are gay, black women, you could face homophobia, sexism and racism.
“The EU referendum has both revealed and amplified the experience of racism among ethnic minorities in Britain."
3. Goodbye EU - Increased Isolation
Irrespective of how you feel or see the UK's future relationship with the EU, what is crucial is that we are no longer a member of Union. We're no longer a member of a European community of nations. A historic organisation that has established a shared common market; established arguably the most robust human rights protections in history and have brought about culture exchange across the continent through funding a variety of programmes, most prominently the Erasmus+ student exchange programme.
Well, after January 2021, it's going to be all change. It's still not clear how our new relationship is going to be.
It means that EU citizens and UK citizens no longer share many of the same rights. They will become 'overseas' students that, a term that for many, represent countries far beyond our continent, not countries that are just a short distance away across the English Channel.
Our European students will have to live through this redefining process themselves and face many of the challenges that their international students have historically faced, for example, VISA restrictions.
4. Arguments and Tension with Friends and Family
Brexit has been divisive, and it's common to establish at family occasions and socials with friends that talk of Brexit is off-limits. It causes arguments and creates tension. Even those that voted the same way may have very different ideas of what the future looks like and? They perhaps have starkly different reasons for why they voted. The political parties could not even agree, with remain and Brexit factions in each party.
There is a generational divide, often pitting parents against the children. Millennials were more likely to vote remain. The referendum brought competing political ideals between the generations to the foreground in terms of views on immigration, LGBTQ rights and opinions on religion and belief.
London voting "Remain". For some, this showed a disconnect between the capital and the rest of the country.
5. No Deal - Dealing with Uncertainty
Despite the referendum being years ago, a couple of elections, a cycle of negotiations we still don't have a clear idea what the future is going to look like. This process has created a prolonged period of uncertainty. We don't know when things will be settled, and until then we're lost in the unknown.
This uncertainty becomes more and more pressing as the January deadline approaches when the transitionary arrangements expire. The UK government is committed to not requesting an extension. Still, both the EU and the UK have been committed to managing the COVID-19 outbreak and talk of Brexit is only beginning to return to the media spotlight and it doesn't appear that either party are progressing far.
Managing the unknown and the impact it could have on all of us is going to be distressing.
Tips you might find helpful!
Strike a balance between staying informed and news overload.
Our 24-hour news cycle makes it increasingly challenging to manage our news consumption. Still, you could, for example, delete news apps off your phone, unsubscribe to newsletters/email postings, avoid televised news. You can also set aside a specific time of the day for you to read the news to stay up-to-date.
Look out for Positive News. If the news is getting you down, I'd recommend looking at resources dedicated to positive news - https://www.positive.news/ / https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/ / https://thehappynewspaper.com/
Get Involved. You can often feel like you can't do anything, but there are ways to empower yourself. You can volunteer, join community groups, get involved in your student society and network, donate to charity, become a part of your local church or temple community.
If you're interested in politics, you could consider joining a political party, writing to your local MP or joining an interest group, for example, Green Peace or Amnesty.
Let It Out! If you're feeling down and powerless you might find it useful talking it out with someone. You might find it helpful to write it out, either privately or publicly.
You could be feeling particularly worried about an aspect, for example, implications for travel, if so talk to specialists who can advise, this could be your University's international team.
You might also find it useful, having an honest conversation if differences from Brexit are challenging your relationship with loved ones. Ask them why they voted the way they did? Try to listen actively, without judgement or challenge. The aim is not to agree with one another but to seek greater understanding so that you can move on.
Remember What We Share Okay, so you may think differently to some of your friends and family, but remember that Brexit doesn't need to define your relationship with them.
Remember what you have in common with them, why you liked or loved them in the first place, remember the shared experiences and good times you have shared.
Working in Partnership
The project is nation-wide, and we're making a real effort to engage with everyone interested in international student mental health, including universities, mental health services, students unions, sector bodies, charities and organisations such a private student accommodation.
The project is led by the University of Nottingham, in partnership with the University of Nottingham Students' Union, University of Leeds, Leeds University Union, SOAS, SOAS Students' Union, Student Minds and Campuslife Ltd.
Project funded as part of the Office for Students Mental Health Challenge Competition.
Illustration of a person sitting with the globe by UN COVID-19 on Unsplash