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The Impact of Brexit on the Mental Health of EU Citizens Revealed

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The findings of a study into the impact of Brexit on the mental health and well-being of EU citizens in Scotland have been published today (Wednesday 12 June) by researchers at Robert Gordon University (RGU).

The study, a collaboration between RGU and Feniks – a charity aiming to improve the well-being of the Central Eastern European Community in Edinburgh – aimed to analyse how this seismic change in British politics is shaping the lives of the communities most affected.

Results show that the Brexit campaign, referendum, and subsequent political discourse have impacted the mental health and well-being of EU citizens, primarily in relation to their integration into Scottish society. Anxiety around the uncertainty of the future relationship between the EU and the UK, and the legal status of EU citizens was one of the themes. Participants expressed that they felt unable to make informed decisions about their future, such as starting their studies or buying a house. Some noted that they had considered moving outside of the UK but were concerned that they may not be able to return.

Piotr Teodorowski, an early career researcher at RGU involved in the study said: ‘This is the first study to provide a detailed exploration into how the impact of Brexit, and its implications, is being felt by EU citizens in Scotland. From the results, it is clear that the perception of the UK as a warm and welcoming country has shifted and this change has had a negative impact on the mental health of EU citizens.

‘Many EU citizens now feel unwelcome and rejected, with some reporting experiences of discrimination. This, coupled with feelings of being marked out as different, disenfranchised, and disempowered, express the anxiety felt by EU citizens in Scotland as a result of Brexit.

‘The underlying argument we can draw from this research is that the mental health of EU citizens is important, not only in its own right, but as a barometer of integration and cohesion in Scotland. We hope these results will help to stimulate debate on how EU citizens in Scotland can be supported and how to enhance cohesion in Scottish society. Brexit is still ongoing, and this research has captured EU citizens’ experiences at a specific point in the process. There is a need to continue this dialogue and to develop interventions which could support EU citizens’ mental health and well-being, and strengthen their integration in the local community.’

The findings of the report were shared at an event held at the European Parliament Liaison Office today (Wednesday 12 June). The event was opened by Ben Macpherson MSP, Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development. A panel of speakers, including Magda Czarnecka, Project Development Manager at Feniks, Lewis Macdonald MSP, Convenor of the Health and Sport Committee, Dr Wojtek Wojcik, NHS Lothian, and Professor Ian Murray, Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at RGU discussed what needs to be done to support EU citizens in Scotland. Closing remarks were delivered by Per Johansson, Head of the European Parliament Liaison Office,

Europe Minister Ben Macpherson said: ‘It is hard to hear that the EU citizens in this study have been left feeling unwanted and unwelcome as a result of Brexit, and because of the UK Government’s policies regarding their residency status and other rights.

‘It is clear that the real impact of Brexit is being felt by people on a personal level across the country, and none more so than EU citizens who have done us the honour of making Scotland their home. That is why we have launched the Stay in Scotland campaign, to encourage and support EU citizens to stay here. We will continue to do all we can to support EU citizens in Scotland through these uncertain times.

‘The health of all citizens is important and if anyone living in Scotland needs help for mental health issues, they should contact their GP or NHS 24 on 111 in the first instance.’

Magda Czarnecka, Project Development Manager at Feniks said: ‘It is impressive research that proves how strongly immigrants’ sense of security depends on the decisions of people removed from them by the thousands of miles. There should be closer cooperation between employers, the Scottish Government and migrant organisations to protect the rights and mental health of the EU citizens in Scotland. 

‘I am very grateful for the researchers at RGU for their work and I am looking forward to seeing how initiatives develop on the basis of this report.’

The research team involved in the study included Piotr Teodorowski, Research Assistant at RGU, Magda Czarnecka, from Feniks, Dr Ruth Woods, Lecturer in Psychology at RGU and Professor Catriona Kennedy, the study’s Principal Investigator and Professor of Community Nursing at RGU. 

A report summarising the findings of this research can be found online.

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