Britain’s shambolic divorce from the European Union is doing damage to the nation’s psychological health

The Brexit blues are more than a passing headache

Three weeks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, a man in his 40s was brought to the emergency department of a Nottingham hospital. The unidentified man, according to a case report in the British Medical Journal, was in an “acute psychotic state”, stemming from his distress over the June 2016 Brexit referendum.

Once admitted, the patient tried to “burrow” through the hospital floor “to get the hell out of this place”, wrote Dr Mohammad Zia Ul Haq Katshu, the specialist who treated the man and author of the BMJ report. The patient thought he was being spied on and believed there was a plot to kill him. Dr Katshu noted the man was experiencing work and family stress prior to the episode which might have contributed to his psychosis.

While this is an extreme case, growing evidence shows Brexit is causing more than mild stress – not to mention severe economic uncertainty. The messy uncoupling from the EU is forcing Brits to consider what sort of nation they want to live in. The UK’s identity crisis that had been lurking beneath the surface for decades has emerged through the skin. And we can now see the well-formed pimple, ripe for the bursting.

It’s little wonder, then, that 40 percent of the country report Brexit has negatively impacted their mental health. The survey by YouGov, a polling firm, was conducted in early October, during another climatic Brexit moment that wasn’t. The geographical spread of those who say their mental health has been affected is fairly even. That is, Remainers and Leavers are both feeling the pinch.

But you only need to walk past Westminster and speak with a few protestors, from both sides, to understand the anguish of the competing tribes. It must be said, though, that these protestors represent the pointy tip of their respective movements – the dedicated activists. But underneath those two pointy tips lie two huge icebergs, grumbling, arguing and rarely hearing one another. Remainers fear for the future of a Britain unmoored from the EU, and they resent Leavers for disagreeing with them. Meanwhile, Leavers resent Remainers for delaying Britain’s exit by standing in the way of the will of the people.

After a brief admission to hospital, the man suffering from Brexit-induced psychosis made a full recovery. Once he was better and reflecting on his ordeal, according to the case report, he said: “I was looking at the electoral map of voting for the EU [and] I am in a constituency that reflects an opinion that is not for me.” His wife told hospital staff that, in the aftermath of the referendum, he’d become increasingly anxious about racially-motivated attacks.

The Mental Health Foundation, a UK charity, says that while no group has a monopoly on Brexit-related stress, some people are more affected. Namely, EU nationals, ethnic and religious minorities, and people predisposed to mental ill-health.

And the recent YouGov poll wasn’t the first indication the Brexit blues are biting into Britain’s emotional state. In March 2019, the Mental Health Foundation found four in 10 adults said Brexit made them feel powerless, angry and worried. In April, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, an accrediting body, found a third of British adults said Brexit had affected their mental health.

But amidst the gloom, Dr Antonis Kousoulis, director of the Mental Health Foundation, offers a few simple remedies. “Empowering our voice through community involvement,” he says, “and staying close to friends” can help keep the bonds of civility and, indeed, sanity in place. That’s all well and good, providing your friends voted the same way.

Featured photo: AFP/Isabel Infantes.