Psychiatrist reveals deep anxiety felt by British expats in France over Brexit

by Ray Clancy on February 17, 2018

Brexit has created anxiety and anger among British expats living and working in France and they feel a growing sense of helplessness, according to a chartered psychologist.

Christine Haworth-Staines is a Chartered Psychologist and an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS) who has been living and working in France for over 10 years and has seen first-hand how the decision to leave the European Union has affected her fellow expats.

(Diego Barbieri/Shutterstock.com)

She reveals that a survey she conducted recently of 60 British citizens living in and around the Gers Department in South West France indicated that post-Brexit their anxiety has increased by 22%, while the level of happiness reported had fallen by almost 14%, and feelings of security about the future had likewise fallen by 21%.

‘The experience of the Brexit referendum from an expatriate’s point of view has been, for most people, one of anxiety and anger, coupled with a growing feeling of helplessness, none of which is exactly conducive to long term mental wellbeing,’ she says on the BPS website.

‘When we consider some of the important factors in mental health, we know that a positive relationship with others and a sense of belonging is paramount. This extends not just to our immediate family but to the society in which we live,’ she explains.

She points out that being part of the EU gave expats in Europe a sense of belonging to their adopted community. Despite being outside of their country of origin they felt that they belonged to a wider economic and social group.

‘We also know that having a sense of purpose, either through work or other projects, is just as important to maintaining a sense of well-being. But with all the potential changes to the rights of UK citizens in Europe it is difficult to pursue projects with confidence,’ she says.

‘Living with uncertainty is particularly difficult for those people who are predisposed to anxiety disorders. Individuals who hold strong beliefs that worrying is positive, often to maintain a sense of control, are having difficulty with this ongoing process of Brexit,’ she explains.

‘But the impact has been wider than this. I have seen clients with issues of trust in relation to others feeling their negative beliefs are now reinforced,’ she adds.

Indeed on client told her: ‘I always thought the British Government would protect its citizens and that people in power in the UK would make sensible decisions… that has been shattered, I have lost faith in others’.

She believes that a great deal of the distress being generated by Brexit is due to the general feeling of uncertainty. People worry about what will happen if they cannot work after Brexit, they are concerned about their access to healthcare, they wonder if French people will stop liking them.

Haworth-Staines says that while Brexit cannot be reversed, even although many would support that, one thing that can be done to help is a focus more on the consequences unfolding before, not just the fiscal but also the personal, the physical and the mental, and try to ameliorate them where possible.

‘For myself I am still hoping Theresa May and her team will be able to negotiate a deal which will avoid the most negative of these what if…? scenarios and, in the meantime, I’m doing my best not to worry,’ she concludes.

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