Psychosis is a broad term used to refer to hallucinations or delusions about things that do not exist, often due to an underlying mental illness, extreme stress or brain injury. Whilst some may argue that certain multi-million-pound NHS funding proposals printed on the side of campaign buses in 2016 were delusional, it’s only now that the first case of Brexit-induced psychosis has been recognized in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Case Reports.
Whilst the case was only published last week, the episode described actually took place in the immediate aftermath of the July 2016 referendum.
The report, authored by Mohammad Zia Ul Haq Katshu, a doctor at Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, describes a middle-aged man who was brought to hospital by paramedics. He was diagnosed as suffering from acute psychosis. He reported hearing voices, believed people were spying on him and planning to kill him, and that radio/TV debates were specifically targeted at him (of course only Facebook ads are targeted like this, so far).
The patient was accompanied by his wife, who explained that since the referendum, her husband had become increasingly agitated, finding sleep difficult and feeling worried about racially motivated incidents and the bizarre political events unfolding around him.
Drugs prescribed to alleviate these symptoms had proved ineffectual, and due to his worsening mental state, he was admitted to an acute psychiatric unit where he stayed for around three weeks.
After a dose of a tranquilizer, followed by a course of anti-psychotics, the patient’s symptoms alleviated, and he was able to be released back to his home two weeks after his stay in the psychiatric unit.
Unlike the British political situation, he has since made a full recovery, with no further episodes.
Whilst the case study is an unintended reflection of how most of the British population have felt over the last three years, the case is also instructive as a reminder that acute stress can bring on serious psychological symptoms such as psychosis, with stressful events preceding between 30% and 50% of such cases. With two-thirds of the British population reporting feeling stressed in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, it’s perhaps surprising that more case reports haven’t been published.
Additionally, a preceding history of poor mental health can also increase the risk for psychosis; the patient in the case study reported having a mild psychotic episode 13 years prior, although this had alleviated after a few days.
Summing up, the report’s author highlights why understanding the environmental factors that can trigger psychosis is so important: “Identifying early warning signs of acute and transient psychotic disorders, especially during stressful situations, can lead to early treatment and quick recovery, which is associated with a better long term prognosis,” he concludes.
Read more information on the signs and causes of psychosis here via Mind, the mental health charity.