An Overview of Brief Psychotic Disorder

Brief psychotic disorder.

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Brief psychotic disorder is the sudden onset of psychotic behavior that lasts less than one month. It’s followed by complete remission, but there’s always a chance that the affected person will experience another psychotic episode.

While some individuals who experience brief psychotic disorders may have other mental health issues, like depression or anxiety, there are also ones who appear to be fine prior to their psychotic break.

People who experience a brief psychotic disorder may suddenly begin to hear or see things that aren’t there. They may exhibit bizarre behavior and have difficulty functioning.

Yet unlike other psychotic disorders that may require ongoing medication to keep symptoms at bay, brief psychotic disorders resolve within one month’s time. Often, the symptoms disappear just as quickly as they appeared.

It can be a frightening and confusing experience for affected individuals and their loved ones. Developing a better understanding of psychotic disorders can help.

Symptoms

By definition, the symptoms associated with brief psychotic disorder must resolve within one month. The symptoms are similar to those of other psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder, but unlike those conditions, the symptoms resolve.

It involves one or more of the following psychotic symptoms:

Brief psychotic disorder can look vastly different from person to person. So while one individual may hear voices that aren't really there someone else may become catatonic, where they essentially stop moving and stop responding. Sometimes, the symptoms resolve before a diagnosis can even be made.

Diagnosis

A physician, psychiatrist, or mental health clinician can diagnose brief psychotic disorder. The diagnosis is made based on an interview with the patient and potentially an interview with family members, as persons affected may not be reliable reporters during a psychotic episode.

Quite often, a concerned friend or family member may bring an individual to the doctor after the person exhibits behavior that is out of the ordinary, such as speaking in sentences that don’t make sense or talking to people who aren’t really there.

A physician will likely run medical tests to rule out potential physical causes and to establish that the issues don’t stem from substance use.

A referral to a mental health professional can be made once physical health issues have been ruled out. 

A clinician diagnosing the condition will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to determine if the criteria are met.

Due to the time limit on the condition, a diagnosis of brief psychotic disorder is usually not made until after the symptoms have resolved. This is because the clinician often has no way of knowing whether someone may have developed a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia that remains permanent or if the person is experiencing a brief episode that will resolve (such as in the case of brief psychotic disorder).

Treatment

The treatment may depend on the cause. While the causes may be unclear in most cases, there are times when it appears to stem from a major stress or trauma. The death of a loved one, an assault, or a near-death experience may trigger the episode.

There may also be other factors that contribute to psychotic disorders, such as biology or genetics. Brief psychotic disorders can run in families.

Treatment may include antipsychotic medication which may stop symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. Other medications, such as antidepressants might also be used. Medications may only be necessary during psychotic episodes.

In some cases, psychotherapy can be an important part of treatment. Therapy may help someone deal with trauma, manage stress, or cope with their symptoms in a healthy way. This may prevent an individual from experiencing another psychotic episode.

Experiencing a psychotic episode can be frightening. Individuals may benefit from talking to a therapist to help them deal with stress or even embarrassment as well as the fear of having another episode.

Prognosis

The prognosis for brief psychotic disorder is good. Some people only experience one episode and are able to resume a normal life without any impairments once their symptoms have resolved.

One study found that there was only about a 50% chance that individuals with brief psychotic disorder would experience another episode at some point in their lives. 

Prevalence

There aren’t a lot of studies on the prevalence of brief psychotic disorder, but it’s thought to occur somewhat infrequently in the general population. One study in Finland found the prevalence was about .05% among the general population. 

A study conducted at a psychiatric center in rural Ireland found that among 196 cases of psychosis, only 10 of them appeared to be brief psychotic disorder. 

There appear to be higher rates in populations that are under high stress. Immigrants, refugees, and victims of natural disasters are more likely to exhibit brief psychotic disorder. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) study on the Determinants of Outcome of Mental Disorders found that brief psychotic disorder is 10 times higher in developing countries than in industrialized countries. It’s also more common in women and in those with personality disorders.

Coping

Education is key to coping with a brief psychotic disorder. Individuals and families can benefit from learning about symptoms, warning signs, and treatment options.

It’s important for families to know what to do if symptoms appear again. Having a plan in place to access treatment can increase the likelihood that an individual with brief psychotic disorder can get help.

It is also important for family members to be made aware of the importance of monitoring someone who is experiencing a brief psychotic disorder. The person may be at risk of suicide or self-injury, so knowing when to call for help can be essential.

Individuals with brief psychotic disorder may benefit from learning stress management strategies to help them cope with daily life. Managing stress better may reduce the likelihood of experiencing another psychotic episode.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing a brief psychotic episode—or watching a loved one experience psychosis—can be really scary. Gaining support and education from professionals can help you manage the symptoms and develop a plan for dealing with them in the event they return in the future.

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