Chiswick Herald article - Brexit and Mental Health
One third of adults say Brexit has affected their mental health, BACP research finds
The BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) one of my professional bodies reported the results of a research study where they found that “the mental health and wellbeing of 33 per cent of people had been negatively affected by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union”, with “a further 24 per cent saying it had affected them a little.”
The research further identified that younger people (16 to 24 year olds) had been affected less than older people (over 65’s). Whilst people from wealthier households were more likely to feel the affects. Looking at peoples political affiliations, Labour voters were twice as likely as Conservative voters to say their mental health had been affected.
I was pleased to see this research being conducted as I think my profession has been rather slow to engage with how external affairs and current events can impact upon our mental health and wellbeing.
It is often the case that people come to talk to me about how they are finding a number of things difficult and in talking these through they are able to make sense of the struggle in part through external factors. In my experience a lot of pain comes from a persons fear that they are either not coping, doing things in the right way or are not good enough in some way when actually something is going on around them, which given some time and space, can make sense of the struggle.
I think the last few years have provided a societal context which is challenging for many people. Values, expectations and systems have been changing and narratives in the media around division and conflict serve to increase anxiety. I’ve heard people say that BBC Parliament has become their favourite channels as they watch drama after drama unfold in the UK political system.
But I think there are also other external factors that are affecting peoples levels of anxiety than Brexit. Of course it has always been the case that the only real constant is change but the scale and speed of change coming from technology, global population growth, scientific and medical advances, changing social and moral norms are such that we are left with little time and space - which is crucial for us to process and integrate necessary changes.
One of my observations is that our hierarchical systems - political, governmental, organisational, societal and also some of our most notable people are being increasingly exposed as sources of oppression, excess, abuse and incompetence. What we thought we knew is being turned on its head, whilst what we need to be is changing at great speed.
Brexit can be a focus of this because it involves a massive change and the energy involved in change serves to bring focus on every element of how our society is working - and us within it. Every aspect of our lives is up for scrutiny whilst increased anxiety results in an attempt to understand the limits of change and what we need to do to be ready. Our desire for certainty means that many questions are asked and pressure builds as answers fail to satisfy or give enough clarity.
As with all change we can fear it because we can never fully prepare for it - we will not know how it feels until it happens. And the extent to which you fear it being dependent upon a wide range of factors - whether you actively chose it, how much energy you feel you have to make change, just how much you have to change, how much time you have available and how equipped you feel.
My advice for people feeling stressed and anxious about how the world is changing is to turn your focus to yourself. In what ways can you ensure you are best prepared to meet change? How can you improve your health, your quality of life, develop your skills, manage your finances, spend more time with the people you love, do the things you enjoy? Turn your attention to the things in your control, the more in control you think you are the stronger you will feel and the easier change will be.