National Stress Awareness Month: Brexit detrimental to Brits’ mental health

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Wellbeing charity Ben says Brexit is having a detrimental effect on Brits’ mental health, with workplace issues such as job security for employees and bosses grappling with the future of their business taking a toll.

The new data identifies potential correlation between key Brexit events since the 2016 referendum and poor levels of mental health and wellbeing, as expressed across social media platforms.

The referendum saw 5,547 mentions of poor wellbeing across Facebook, Twitter and across news article comments. Theresa May’s appointment as Prime Minister resulted in 5,320 concerned mentions. The biggest spike emerged during formal negotiations on withdrawal between the UK and EU (17,544 mentions).

Over the last year, nearly half of Brits (43%) report feeling powerless over Brexit – which, if extended to the whole population, accounts for 22 million people. Thirty-nine per cent are ‘angry while 38% are ‘worried.’

While there is no concrete evidence linking Brexit directly to ill health, data certainly highlights a strong relationship. Since the referendum in 2016, there has been a 13.7% increase in prescriptions for antidepressants and a fifth of relationship counsellors from Relate have even seen a rise in clients raising Brexit as a concern which confirms its permeating impact on our lives.

Rachel Clift, health and wellbeing director at Ben, said: “To many, Brexit has felt like a cloud looming over us for nearly three years. Sometimes it slips front-of-mind and it’s hard to see light at the end of the tunnel. ‘Is my job safe?’ ‘Will my business survive?’ are questions the UK’s workforce is grappling everyday. For some people, the future of their business or job security will weigh heavy on their minds. We’ve seen this with the automotive industry people we support.

“Uncertainty is the overarching issue here. Not all of us cope well with uncertainty – it can cause real anxiety about the future. In addition to this, Brexit has caused confusion as to what is really going on.

“Whilst some people have quite simply had enough, it is easy to see why others are also feeling concerned, worried, frustrated or angry. This angst triggers the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. If left unchecked, longer-term stress can have a seriously detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing.”

A study by Right Management revealed that Brexit is increasing employee anxiety. For the first time ever, over half (57%) of work absences are due to stress, anxiety and depression – overtaking back pain. Being at work while struggling with mental health issues can have a significant impact upon performance, productivity and morale. Often people turn to maladaptive (unhelpful) coping strategies such as poor eating habits, increased consumption of alcohol, smoking, gambling and lack of work-life balance.

Clift added: “In more extreme cases, poor mental health can trigger suicidal thoughts. This can be caused by a multitude of factors, but the added fear that Brexit may compromise your future, career or business can amplify concerns. Moreover, EU nationals living in the UK have reported feeling suicidal about their future in the country they consider home.

“Social media can tell us so much about the nation’s state of mind. Channels like Facebook and Twitter offer an accessible outlet for people to share their thoughts or concerns. Some find it easier to write their feelings than confide in someone in person. An individual may not realise they’re struggling with a mental health issue, but sharing on social media or writing comments is a way of managing their emotions by identifying how they are feeling. For some, this can feel like a way to express themselves and find support.”

NHS Horizons suggests the following tips for building your personal resilience:

  1. Celebrate your achievements – no matter how small
  2. Introduce better self-care – think about how your recharge, rather than how you endure – this includes how we sleep, eat, exercise and rest our minds
  3. Be honest – with yourself and others, there will always be challenges, it’s how we deal with them that counts
  4. Remember what makes you special and what you give back to others everyday
  5. Choose your battles – ‘don’t sweat the small things’
  6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, it happens, how we learn from our mistakes is what helps us to move on and progress in life
  7. Maintain perspective – the situation may feel bad in the present but it won’t feel like that forever, there is a lot to be said for ‘giving things time’
  8. Build a supportive network – doesn’t have to be lots of people or groups, but the quality of our relationships with others makes a real difference
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    Katy Phillips


    All stories by: Katy Phillips