Some people may suddenly experience symptoms of psychosis like hallucinations and delusions. Sometimes, it’s due to brief psychotic disorder.
Hallucinations and delusions are symptoms of different mental health conditions, including schizophrenia.
Sometimes, these resolve within a month, and may not reappear in a long time or at all. In these cases, a health professional may diagnose brief psychotic disorder.
Learning more about this condition may help you understand its symptoms and how to manage them.
Brief psychotic disorder is a temporary loss of connection with reality, often caused by a significantly stressful circumstance or event.
People who experience brief psychotic disorder may see, hear, or feel things that others don’t. This may include hallucinations, delusional thinking, or unpredictable behavior.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) includes brief psychotic disorder under “schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders.” This doesn’t mean it’s the same thing as schizophrenia.
The symptoms of brief psychotic disorder involve a detachment from the surrounding reality and a loss of functioning.
For a health professional to reach a diagnosis, they need to identify at least one of the following symptoms:
- hallucinations (auditory, visual, or tactile)
- delusions (false beliefs)
- disorganized speech
Most people experience more than one of these, though. Sometimes, there’s a fourth one:
- catatonic or disorganized behavior
However, if catatonic or disorganized behavior is your only symptom, your health professional won’t likely reach a diagnosis of brief psychotic disorder.
It’s also important to rule out any other causes for your symptoms. Your health team will likely explore if any of these are present:
- bipolar disorder with psychosis
- schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder
- substance use
- side effects of medications
- another medical condition
Though the exact cause of brief psychotic disorder isn’t clear, it’s
Brief psychotic disorder usually follows a traumatic event or major source of stress. The death of a loved one and military activity are examples of situations that could result in brief psychotic disorder for some people.
Although it can happen to anyone, brief psychotic disorder occurs more in high-stress populations, like refugees, immigrants, and survivors of natural disasters such as earthquakes.
In developing countries, brief psychotic disorder is
Brief psychotic disorder is a short-duration condition. There’s a chance it resolves on its own within a few weeks.
However, without professional treatment, symptoms could reduce your ability to take care of yourself and others.
Untreated brief psychotic disorder can impact how well you function in your school or job, and how you interact with others. Your personal safety could also be in jeopardy.
Getting professional support can help you manage your symptoms and prevent them from coming back.
Some medications, for example, may reduce the chance of hallucinations and delusions, and psychotherapy can help you process the traumatic events or situations that induced your symptoms.
Hospitalization may be an option for some people.
There have been a limited number of clinical trials exploring interventions specifically for brief psychotic disorder, so health professionals currently use treatments that have been successful for other psychotic disorders.
Antipsychotic medication is the primary treatment for brief psychotic disorder. You’ll probably be asked to continue taking your medication for 1 to 3 months after your symptoms have ended.
Your medication will likely be an oral formulation, although in certain situations doctors can administer intramuscular injections.
Second-generation, or atypical antipsychotic medications, seem to have the least amount of side effects.
Health professionals usually recommend trying this type of medication first. Options include:
If atypical antipsychotic medication doesn’t work well enough, your health team may suggest first-generation, or typical, antipsychotics such as:
A third medication class for the treatment of psychosis is benzodiazepines. This type of medication helps when a person with psychosis becomes agitated or combative.
Medications may help with symptoms, but psychotherapy may enable you to manage stress and cope with difficult life events. This works to prevent a recurrence of brief psychotic disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is talk therapy that works with reassessing thought patterns that may be harming you.
With your therapist’s help, you work on changing negative thinking habits.
CBT is goal-oriented, with exercises and homework to complete, like journals and symptom logs.
Group therapy may include couple and family therapy, but also group sessions with people who you may not know but share your symptoms or concerns.
Your family can be a valuable support network. When you’re experiencing a significant life event like an occurrence of brief psychotic disorder, therapy with your support team can be an important part of your treatment.
On the other hand, if a family dynamic is causing the stress that has contributed to your symptoms, therapy may be able to address this situation.
Some people with brief psychotic disorder benefit from spending time in the hospital during treatment. When deciding if hospitalization is appropriate, a health professional may consider several factors:
- symptom severity
- socioeconomic stability
- strength of support network (friends and family)
- the presence of harm and self-harm ideation
Brief psychotic disorder lasts for more than 1 day but less than 1 month.
Clinicians often wait to see if symptoms last longer than 1 month before making a diagnosis of brief psychotic disorder.
In the meantime, your health team might say you have an unspecified psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified until enough time has passed and it’s clear that your symptoms have stopped.
On some occasions, symptoms of brief psychotic disorder can happen more than once in a lifetime. You might experience another situation that induces a recurrence of the condition.
If your symptoms continue and last longer than 6 months, you may be assessed for schizophrenia.
The difference between brief psychotic disorder and schizophrenia is the duration of symptoms.
Brief psychotic disorder lasts for less than 1 month. It’s possible for symptoms to return, but in many cases, they don’t. If you have brief psychotic disorder, your symptoms will no longer be present after 1 month.
In contrast, schizophrenia is a lifelong condition. However, it’s also manageable and treatable.
It’s unclear if brief psychotic disorder can become schizophrenia at some point. There’s limited and inconclusive research on this.
Brief psychotic disorder is induced by significant stress or trauma. Its main features are symptoms of psychosis including hallucinations and delusions. The condition lasts less than 1 month.
Brief psychotic disorder is treatable with medication and therapy. Prompt treatment reduces the severity of your symptoms and decreases the chance of a recurrence.