Brexit referendum ‘triggered psychotic episode’

    2 October 2019

    Political events can take a serious toll on mental health, a doctor has warned in the journal BMJ Case Reports, having treated a man with a brief episode of acute psychosis, triggered by the 2016 Brexit Referendum. People who are already psychologically vulnerable may be particularly at risk in such circumstances, he suggests.

    The doctor describes the case of a middle aged man, brought to hospital by paramedics in an acute psychotic state, three weeks after the result was announced.

    He was confused and agitated, with disordered thoughts and speech. He heard voices and was delusional. And he was paranoid, believing people were spying on him and planning to kill him, and that radio and TV discussions were targeted at him.

    His wife explained that since the Referendum result he had found it increasingly difficult to come to terms with the nature of political events around him. He became increasingly worried about racially motivated incidents and found it difficult to sleep, she said.

    Despite being prescribed drugs to alleviate his agitation and insomnia, his mental health continued to worsen to the point that he needed urgent hospital treatment. He was admitted to a psychiatric unit, given a tranquilizer (lorazepam) to calm him down, and prescribed an antipsychotic (olanzapine) for about three weeks.

    He made a full recovery and was discharged home after two weeks. He has had no further episodes up to the date of his last check-up in June 2019. There was no history of mental ill health in his family. But in the run-up to the Referendum, he had experienced work and family pressures, both of which may have contributed to the deterioration in his mental health, notes the author.

    “Political events can be a source of significant psychological stress,” he writes, citing US surveys in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, showing that two thirds of respondents identified the country’s future as a significant stressor, while over half felt stressed by the existing political climate.