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The psychological effects of Brexit

Levels of anxiety, fear and uncertainty generated by the referendum have affected diverse groups in the United Kingdom. Since the day following the vote, the fear of an unknown future affects the minds of many. Support groups and psychological help for Latino immigrants pay heed to this phenomenon.


Miedo 3 pixabay Marcos Ortiz F.


Consequentially affected are employment and inflation, figures of net migration and the external image of the country. Many factors have been analysed following the decision made by the Britain to leave the European Union.

Additionally, great changes most certainly affect the emotional state of individuals. Many British people, and especially immigrants resident on the island, have been clearly affected by Brexit.

On a country accustomed to rainfall and grey skies the perfect storm settled. From one day to the next Great Britain was left with a resigning Prime Minister, the pound at levels unseen since 1985 and levels of uncertainty not even the pro-Brexiters managed to contain.

This complete unsettling led to unforeseen situations. The authorities had to make phone calls to stop issuing Irish passports with the aim of maintaining links with the European Union.

noche soeldad horror miedo pixabayOthers, in order to try to ease their uncertainty, searched quickly for an enemy- the vote of older generations, of conservatives, of ignorance- to discharge emotions. Specialists did not hesitate in talking of a “mental health crisis”.

A week after the vote, Professor Martin Milton, of Regent’s University London, suggested that many felt “scared, confused, bruised and hurt.” From within the Mental Health Foundation they added that a mixture of shock and anger, accompanied by “sadness, frustration and even despair” ensued.

Dr John McGowan, for example, of the Salomon’s Centre for Applied Psychology, pointed to the five stages of grief, a theory elaborated by the psychiatrist of Swiss and North American origins, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. According to McGowan, following the referendum many found themselves in the first stage of denial (“I feel fine, this can’t be happening to me”) and the second stage, of anger (“Why me?” “It’s not fair!”). Still to come were the three following stages: negotiation, depression and acceptance.

The Latin American reality

Within the offices of the Teléfono de la esperanza UK, in South London, the effects of Brexit have been experienced. “At first there was a level of anguish, anxiety and confusion amongst people.

Nancy Liscano. Photo by Marcos Ortiz

“I don’t know what we’ll do, what will happen, what this will mean, I don’t understand, I don’t believe it. I have made this journey and have given it a second chance”, tells Nancy Liscano to The Prisma, who is president and founder of this organisation set up 11 years ago.

With 38 Spanish-speaking volunteers, of whom 14 attend calls of the Hispano-American community resident in the United Kingdom, the repercussions of the referendum are clear. “These individuals are still trying to focus on their first migration to Spain when suddenly Brexit happens, without any information, and to make matters worse many don’t even speak English. This led to a heightened atmosphere of anxiety”, explains Liscano.

In the opinion of the specialist, who has a PhD in Psychology and is a public figure of the University of Barcelona, Brexit has generated a “learnt despair”, which has impeded seeing a solution to this problem.

Miedo y nubes pixabay 2“I need to do something via my own means. I can’t trust the Government or anything. Now what I have to do is work very hard, as much as possible, y perhaps return to my country of origin”, she describes.

With an average of in between 20 and 25 crisis calls every week, the majority of whom are Colombians, Spanish and Ecuadorian, the team has perceived that the idea of returning to Spain (the country of the first migration) or directly to Latin America is being considered by many residents.

Nancy Liscano summarises: “I have noticed that it is not a distress that despairs. Rather it is a distress that is paralysing, because people don’t know what they’re going to do. Many consider keeping the job they have whilst trying to find more work because afterwards they do not know what they will be doing.”  Help via the telephone, meetings in person, group workshops that cover different themes within mental health and a diversity of campaigns in coordination with other groups are attempts to prevent anxiety levels from eventually becoming depression.

What next?

Attending therapy, speaking with a specialist or initiating group reunions have resulted common alternatives for those suffering from post-Brexit uncertainty. In this way a series of psychologists have decided to share their experiences with anxious patients.

Miedo dolor 6One of these describes what a French immigrant related to him during a consultation: “I decided to emigrate to the United Kingdom when I was 20 to take control of my own future, and here I am again in the same situation. I am ten years old, my future has been robbed and I don’t know what to do”.

These psychological consequences will also affect other areas, such as the economy.

This is what Jonathan Portes, expert in immigration and economics Lecturer at King’s College, London, for example believes. He indicates that it is necessary to include psychological factors in analyses of the results of effects of the referendum: “There will be an extended period of uncertainty before we know which Brexit means for citizens of the EU who are already here and for those who arrive. If people cannot plan without any certainty it is less likely they arrive or stay”.

Open to interpretations on behalf of specialists from the most diverse fields, the psychological aspect of the referendum delivers us an undeniable reality: Brexit entered the minds of millions of people and will stay there for a good while.

Fotos: Marcos Ortiz y Pixabay  – (Natalia Davies)


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