EU nationals living in the UK have reported feeling suicidal as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit appears increasingly likely and they are left uncertain about their future in the country they call home.
Some who have lived in Britain for decades said the “heavy climate of uncertainty” had caused them to lose trust in the government and fear for their right to be in the country, leading to a severe deterioration in their mental health.
There has been a notable rise in EU citizens posting on online forums saying the Brexit situation has driven them to depression, brought on panic attacks or in the worst cases, made them feel suicidal.
Psychotherapists offering a voluntary service to support people suffering from anxiety and depression triggered by Brexit uncertainty said there was significant unmet need and described the government’s response to concerns as “shameful”.
Elena Remigi, founder of the In Limbo project, which seeks to represent EU nationals in Britain, said that while the numbers were small, there had been a surge in people expressing suicidal thoughts on the group’s Facebook page.
“It’s not that we didn’t have them before, but it would be one every few months. In the last couple of weeks, as we’ve come into the festive season and closer to 29 March, there have suddenly been four. It sends alarm bells ringing,” she said.
“And in terms of broader mental health problems, it’s much worse than before. People are expressing more grim thoughts or saying they’re depressed or having panic attacks.
“It’s been two and a half years of not knowing what’s going to happen. If you are economically independent, you know you’re likely to stay. But if you are a carer, or in a wheelchair, or a divorced mum … There’s a heavy climate of uncertainty.”
Ms Remigi said that following the sudden increase, she and others who run the group had adapted a strategy for effectively responding to people expressing suicidal thoughts, namely contacting them directly and referring them to mental health professionals. She said most of them were women from outside London.
“All of this talk about caps, even if it’s only for future immigration, is really scaring people. They worry about becoming the next Windrush generation. The settled status scheme is this big unknown for people. It plays on the minds of the most vulnerable,” Ms Remigi added.
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Dr Neil Lamont, a psychotherapist who runs an emotional support service for EU citizens living in the UK through The Existential Academy in London, said there was a significant need among people whose immigration status could be impacted by Brexit – and that small voluntary services like his were not enough.
“The need is undoubtedly there, because we are witnessing that there is profound anxiety and worry. There’s uncertainty, there’s insecurity and there’s a sense of isolation among people who feel like they’re alone and up against this government machine.
“I think it’s shocking and shameful that politicians haven’t stopped to think about the very human and real impact on people having this degree of uncertainty introduced into their lives.
“While people will say yes we need certainty for these people, no one is really talking about the impact on people’s wellbeing – and it is real.”
Among EU nationals whose mental wellbeing has been affected by the Brexit situation is Luciano Santoro, a 40-year-old Italian national who has worked in London since 2013. He said he had arranged to leave the UK for Germany because of the stress he was enduring due to the Brexit situation.
“I haven’t been able to carry on with my life as if nothing had happened. My wife and I haven’t been able to spend a single day without thinking about Brexit and its consequences on our lives since the referendum happened. We haven’t been able to feel joy and to plan our lives in a normal and healthy way,” he said.
“We all feel so lonely in this situation and what really hurts the most is the apathy among people who are not affected and seem not to care enough to raise our voices. They keep telling us that we’ll be fine. We are already not fine.”
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Jorge Martinez Lopez, a Spanish citizen who moved to the UK in 2012, said he didn’t know whether to apply to the settlement scheme because there were “so many uncertainties”.
He added: “We are in a very hostile environment and I am afraid they will start deporting people. After what happened with the Windrush generation, nothing is stopping them.”
Cosi Doerfel Hill, a German citizen who arrived in the UK 30 years ago as a student and is now married to a British citizen and has a daughter who holds dual-citizenship, said that as a housewife, she was concerned that her UK status won’t be secure after Brexit.
“I worry about survival at this point and if we can live here as a family. I may have to leave this country because I don’t meet the £30,000 wage threshold,” she said.
It comes after a new study found that a majority of Conservative Party members do not support Theresa May’s agreement with Brussels and want the UK to quit the EU in a no-deal Brexit, making this outcome appear increasingly likely.
Fears have also been stoked among EU nationals over the immigration White Paper, which was published last month and indicated that Europeans moving to the UK could require a minimum salary of £30,000 – although that remains subject to consultation.
The document proposes a “guest visa” of up to 12 months for those earning below the threshold, but concerns have been raised that this would grant lower skilled workers fewer rights and give employers little incentive to provide training or support to workers who they would have to let go within a year.
The government has created the EU settlement scheme, an immigration framework which it says will guarantee European citizens who arrived in the UK before the intended Brexit date the right to remain. But many are not convinced it will secure their status in the long run.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and to our society. They are our friends, family and colleagues and we want them to stay.
“The EU Settlement Scheme will make it simple and straightforward for EU citizens to get the status they need and they have until June 2021 to apply. We have already successfully processed many thousands of applications throughout the pilot of the scheme and the feedback from applicants has been positive.
“We are working closely with organisations representing vulnerable EU citizens and we are providing up to £9m grant funding to ensure they are supported in making their application.
If you have been affected by this story, you can call Samaritans on 116 123 for confidential support.