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What is Brexit psychosis?

The Week logo The Week 02/10/2019 theweek.co.uk
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Doctors have identified the first ever case of “Brexit-triggered psychosis”, according to a new report that warns of the dangers posed to mental health by political upheavals.

The male patient, a Remain voter, was admitted to hospital after his mental state “deteriorated rapidly” in the wake of the 2016 EU referendum.

So what exactly happened?

Doctors say that the result of the EU vote caused the unnamed patient, in his 40s, to suffer an acute psychotic illness.

He also became increasingly worried about racial incidents and said he felt “ashamed” to be British.

And after being admitted to a psychiatric ward, he attempted to “burrow” through the hospital floor with his hands to “get the hell out of this place”.

In the newly published report on the case, Dr Mohammad Zia Ul Haq Katshu, who treated the patient, says: “He found it difficult to reconcile with the political events happening around him.”

The patient was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia-like psychotic disorder, which is a category of acute and transient psychotic disorder. It is believed to be the first case of the condition to be triggered by Brexit.

He recovered within a fortnight after a brief admission and treatment with olanzapine, an anti-psychotic.

So what are the symptoms?

The patient “was agitated, confused and thought disordered”, with “auditory hallucinations, and paranoid, referential, misidentification and bizarre delusions”, says Katshu, a clinical associate professor at Nottingham University’s Institute for Mental Health. 

The patient described having “intense periods of accelerated thinking, of being distracted and consumed by my own thoughts, and of a series of theatrical episodes of which I am at the centre”.

He also believed he was being spied on and that discussions on the radio were directed at him.

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Have political events triggered psychosis before?

Sotiris Vandoros, a senior lecturer in health economics at King’s College London, told Newsweek that major political and financial events can come with “health implications”.

He said: “Previous studies have linked economic uncertainty to a temporary increase in suicides and car crashes, and austerity measures to a spike in crashes. Further research is necessary to further disentangle the effects of major political and financial events on mental health.”

Following the 2016 presidential election that delivered Donald Trump to the White House, 66% of US people quizzed for a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) said that they felt increasingly stressed about the political climate in their country. And 57% said that politics have become either a “very” or “somewhat” significant source of anxiety in their lives. 

In his report on the Brexit psychosis case, published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, Katshu concludes that political events “can act as major psychological stressors and have a significant impact on the mental health of people, especially those with a predisposition to develop mental illness”.

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