Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy, as the name would suggest, is an applied psychology practice located in central Brighton and Hove in operation since 2014. Whilst many of our clients travel from further afield to see and be seen by our clinicians, and whilst we offer online therapy, most of our clients over the years have been from the Brighton and Hove area. As such we are in a privileged position to have a good insight into the specifics of the state of mental health amongst the general population of this city.
Do different cities have specific mental health trends?
There is much in the media being published about the poor state of mental health (and mental health provision in England) at the moment. Years of austerity, the pandemic and soaring addiction problems are fueling a national mental health crisis across the nation. This is no different in Brighton and yet some of the issues that people present for therapy within Brighton will also be an expression of the demographic and culture of the city.
The demographics of Brighton
Brighton is a vibrant city on the south coast of England, within easy reach of London. It has a relatively young, highly educated population, many of whom move here for the lifestyle or have graduated from one of the two universities in the city and made the city their home.
It boasts both the highest proportion of small and medium sized enterprises in the country as well as the most start-ups per capita; both these are testimony to the young, highly educated population many of whom are liberally minded and self-starters.
Brighton considers itself not be ethnically diverse though statistically this is not reflected in the figures with 87% of the population being white. Brighton also markets itself as a ‘hip and happy’ city that is the epicentre of the LGBTQ community, though again, the statistics and perception may mask certain realities.
Millennials and mental health
As Millennials have come of age and are now approaching their thirties and beyond, we are noticing increasing numbers of them presenting for therapy. This is a national trend, however due to the large numbers of young people living in Brighton coupled with their education and entrepreneurial spirit, we see many Millennials presenting for open-ended psychotherapy to use as a relational tool to get deeply curious about who they are and what they want from their lives.
Whilst everyone who crosses the threshold of a psychotherapy practice has a ‘presenting issue’, these Millennials will often stay in therapy for a long time to engage in a depth relationship in with to get in touch with their deeper desires. They are often extremely bright as a population group and well-versed in psychological concepts. This in contrast to my own generation – Generation X – who consume the most alcohol and drugs of any generational group and will often only present for therapy once they reach crisis point (a generalisation, but true nonetheless).
Drug and alcohol use
There is a saying in Brighton that nobody who lives here is actually from Brighton. Of course this is a complete exaggeration, however, the city does attract a lot of ‘migrants’ from other parts of the UK as well as beyond. It is liberal and open at heart and, as already discussed, has a young demographic. It is therefore not surprising that drug and alcohol use and misuse is at the highest rate for the South-East of England and one of the highest for the UK. Indeed, back in 2011, Brighton held the disconcerting record for being the drug-death capital of the UK.
Another saying that seems to go some way to defining Brighton is that it is a ‘Peter Pan Town’ where nobody wants to grow up. This would be the ‘shadow side’ of its fun, hip culture in that the city and its culture can draw people into an ongoing cycle of ‘living for the moment’ and avoiding the realities of life.
Psychotherapy has many goals but one is that it is about growing up psychologically – working though past losses and moving with purpose towards what you want. Peter Pan, beneath his boyish charm, was someone who was frightened of the future and of adult responsibility, but unlike Peter Pan we all must grow up as otherwise life simply passes us by.
The LGBTQ community and feelings of not belonging
Brighton prides itself on inclusivity and this is reflected in the size of the LGBTQ community. However, as with everything, there is also a shadow side here and over the years myself and colleagues have worked with individuals who identify as LGBTQ but feel no sense of belonging in the Brighton community, or worse still, feel ostracised.
There is prejudice everywhere and some research has shown that minority communities can unconsciously exhibit higher levels of prejudice towards others who do not meet the criteria of ‘their community’. This is not unique to the LGBT community nor to Brighton and has been observed in racial minorities who have been seen to express higher levels of racism towards other minorities that is present in the general population.
To what extend the above is ubiquitous in Brighton lies beyond the scope of this piece, however, I have had numerous clients over the years who felt that they ‘did not belong’ in the Brighton LGBTQ scene and who found this enormously difficult and painful as it had been one of the reasons why they moved here. They felt that the way they were ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ was not accepted.
We all need a sense of community and belonging and it can be extremely painful if we intentionally move to a place to be a part of a wider community with whom we identify on a profound level, only to find that the way we are in that identity is not accepted.
Cities are communities and communities are collectives of people who, through their unconscious process, create a collective unconscious that’ has an identity to it – so it is with Brighton.
Psychotherapy is a relational process embedded in culture and thus practicing as a psychotherapist in Brighton, the specifics of the community will both be expressed and need to be worked with.
Mark Vahrmeyer, UKCP Registered, BHP Co-founder is an integrative psychotherapist with a wide range of clinical experience from both the public and private sectors. He currently sees both individuals and couples, primarily for ongoing psychotherapy. Mark is available at the Lewes and Brighton & Hove Practices.
Further reading by Mark Vahrmeyer