The impact of Brexit on mental health

PMAC, Mental Health Training & Wellbeing Professionals, discuss the potential impact of Brexit on mental health, with a specific focus on immigration and family separation

We begin this article very conscious of the inescapable phenomenon that is Brexit. It can feel very much as though it dominates the media to the point that we cannot avoid it. We see it on the news, hear it on the radio and, find it in the newspaper whether we want to take an interest or not. Brexit is undoubtedly having an enormous impact on our country our economy, our trade deals and shaping our future. But what about the human impact, more specifically on mental health.

Immigration system

Brexit is changing the very course of our immigration system, which is no mean feat given that there are currently over 4,000,000 EU Citizens living in the UK. Since 30th March 2019, the EU Settlement Scheme launched, meaning that EU citizens that live in the UK will have to apply to remain in the UK. This is a stark contrast to the rights of EU citizens, who previously had an automatic right to live and work in the UK, as they would in any other country in the EU.

Media coverage

One aspect of media coverage that the UK has failed to highlight, is the uncertainty and stress that this has caused for the EU citizens already residing in the UK. Following the outcome of the Brexit vote, many EU citizens living in the UK may have been left feeling unsettled, and as though they do not belong. Suddenly, they were no longer free to come and to contribute to our society as they please and to feel appreciated for their contribution. Overnight, they had become an “out-group”, who would have to work to earn their right to live and work here.

Beyond this, the government has recently announced that as of January 2021 (the Brexit transition period), a new “Points Based System” will come into effect for anyone wishing to come to the UK. This system will reflect Australia’s existing immigration system, where individuals will have to meet certain criteria (earning them points) to be eligible for a visa. Ultimate, it will be much more difficult to gain access to the UK whether to live or to work. The new immigration rules will change all routes into the UK including; work visas, partner/family visas and claims for asylum.

Family separation

To feel as though as an EU citizen, people will now have to “prove” their worth to the UK, is undoubtedly unnerving. This is even more so the case in the impact of families whom may comprise of both British and EU nationals.

It is estimated that there are already thousands of separated families in the UK. These are families where some of the family members live in the UK, whilst other family members reside outside of the UK, whilst they go through the process of obtaining visas. This is suddenly now a possible scenario for EU citizens, who were previously free to create and form families in the UK pre-Brexit, having had no way to anticipate what the future would hold in store for them. The same can be said for members of the extended family and the family’s support network, in regards to visiting their loves ones in the UK.

This familial separation can have a devastating impact on all those affected. Such separation and uncertainty about the future can absolutely lead to depression and anxiety. Not only for the children, whom without their family members may develop longer-term abandonment issues but also for the parents. The remaining parent may feel alone, isolated and overwhelmed. For the parent who may face a prospect of life without the family they built in the UK, they may feel enormous guilt at their lack of physical presence. They may become increasingly anxious about the distance impacting the bond that they share with their loved ones, and may even be left feeling dispensable, as life in the UK is adjusting and continuing without them.

High profile cases of families being torn apart due to administration errors with visa applications does little to reassure or comfort families with EU citizens. There are still so many unknowns and so much uncertainty for EU Citizen’s within their UK whom have set up home here and built a life here. They now face the prospect of having to prove that they add value to British society. Feeling such little control over your future is undoubtedly going to lead to stress and anxiety. It is already documented that feeling out of control is known to lead to increasing frustration, anger, guilt and depression, as you feel so incapable of making decisions that will have a meaningful impact.

For those whose lives are being shaped and changed forever as a result of Brexit, to see such little coverage of these life-changing issues can reinforce a sense that they don’t matter. Their emotions, their futures, the impact on their overall wellbeing, is not of concern. It is important therefore that we as humans – as friends, as colleagues, as partners, work on our awareness and our understanding of the impact that this may be having on EU Citizen’s in Britain, and to offer our emotional support.

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