A Brief Psychotic Disorder

This is what doctors call psychotic symptoms that come on suddenly but last only for a short time — less than one month. After that, people usually recover completely. There are three basic forms of brief psychotic disorders:

  1. Brief psychotic disorder with the obvious stressor (also called brief reactive psychosis): This type happens shortly after trauma or major stress, such as the death of a loved one, an accident, assault, or a natural disaster. It’s usually a reaction to a very disturbing event.
  2. Brief psychotic disorder without obvious stressor: With this type, there is no apparent trauma or stress that triggers it.
  3. Brief psychotic disorder with postpartum onset: This typically only happens in women, usually within four weeks of having a baby.


The most obvious ones include:

Hallucinations: Someone might hear voices, see things that aren’t there, or feel sensations on their skin even though nothing is touching their body.

Delusions: These are false beliefs that someone refuses to give up, even in the face of facts.

Other symptoms are:

  • Disorganized thinking
  • Speech or language that doesn’t make sense
  • Unusual behaviour and dress
  • Problems with memory
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits, energy level, or weight
  • Not being able to make decisions


Experts don’t know what causes a brief psychotic disorder. It is possible there is a genetic link since the condition is more common in people who have a family history of psychotic or mood disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder. Another theory suggests that poor coping skills could trigger the disorder as a defence against or escape from a very frightening or stressful situation. In most cases, the disorder is triggered by a major stressor traumatic event. For some women, childbirth can be a trigger.

How Common Is It?

A brief psychotic disorder is rare. It usually happens for the first time when people are in their 20s or 30s, and it’s more common in women than in men. People who have a condition such as antisocial personality disorder or paranoid personality disorder are more likely to get it.


If someone has symptoms, their doctor will give them a check-up, talk to them about their health history, and give them tests such as brain imaging (for instance MRI scans) or blood tests to rule out other causes. The doctor may refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These mental health professionals use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person with a psychotic disorder.


Someone with the brief psychotic disorder will probably get psychotherapy (a type of counselling), medication, or both. They may need to be hospitalised for a time if their symptoms are severe or if they might harm themselves or someone else.

Psychotherapy is a type of counselling, or “talk therapy.” The goal is to help the person identify and handle the situation or event that triggered the disorder.

Medication: The doctor might prescribe antipsychotic drugs to ease or eliminate the symptoms and end the brief psychotic disorder. The FDA hasn’t approved any medicines specifically to treat a brief psychotic disorder. Doctors often prescribe antipsychotics that are used to treat schizophrenia. These include:

  • Chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
  • Fluphenazine (Prolixin)
  • Haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Loxapine(Loxitane)
  • Perphenazine (Trilafon)
  • Trifluoperazine (Stelazine)
  • Thioridazine (Mellaril)
  • Thiothixene (Navane)

Newer medications, which doctors call “atypical antipsychotic” drugs, include:

If someone with this condition is very anxious or has problems with sleep, their doctor may prescribe tranquillisers such as diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan).


Brief psychotic disorder, by definition, lasts for less than one month, after which most people recover fully. It’s rare, but for some people, it may happen more than once. If symptoms last for more than six months, doctors may consider whether the person has schizophrenia.

Can Brief Psychotic Disorder Be Prevented?

No, but early diagnosis and treatment can help get the person’s life, family, and other relationships back on track as quickly as possible.

Credit: Reviewed by Dr Joseph Goldberg for WebMD, November 2017.