It's fair to say that the last three years of Brexit-related chaos in the UK has taken its toll on the mental health of anyone who's been paying attention. Surveys have repeatedly found an increase in anxiety since the referendum on leaving the European Union, with several attributing it to Brexit itself. But one man suffered what doctors have described in an official case report as an "acute transient psychotic disorder precipitated by Brexit," ultimately warning that political events can cause a major toll on mental health.
Three weeks after the Brexit referendum held in June 2016, a man in his 40s was taken to his local hospital in Nottingham in an acute psychotic state. Writing in BMJ Case Reports, his doctor describe him as agitated, confused, and with disordered thoughts. He was suffering from auditory hallucinations and "paranoid, referential, misidentification and bizarre delusions".
His wife told doctors that following the referendum result to leave the EU on June 24, he had spent more and more time putting his thoughts on social media. He had been finding it difficult to reconcile with the political events happening in the UK, and was increasingly worried about reports of racism and racially-motivated hate crimes rising following the result. His sleep was suffering as a result.
His GP had prescribed him medication to help him sleep, but as time went on, he became more agitated and paranoid, believing people were spying on him or meant him harm.
"In one scenario I remember lying on my bed on the top floor of our house with my arms and legs spread-eagled. I was convinced that one of my wife’s relatives was going to shoot a missile at me using heat-seeking technology and I wanted to provide him with the best possible target," he later told his doctors.
He was finally taken to hospital by his family after he started physically throwing items. On arrival, he attempted to burrow through the floor with his hands in an attempt to "get the hell out of this place", believing a 9/11-style attack was imminent.
As well as disordered thoughts – he thought people on the TV were talking to him, if he killed himself it would prove his love for his wife, and that "two ends of a mathematical equation emerged out of the two poles of earth rotating on its axis" – he began talking to doctors about the referendum. "I was looking at the electoral map of voting for the EU. I am in a constituency that reflects an opinion that is not for me," he told them. He described his family as "multi-cultural" and said he was ashamed to be British.
He was held under the Mental Health Act, and moved to the psychiatric ward for monitoring. Within two weeks, he had recovered completely and was allowed to return home. The unnamed man, who had no history of mental ill health in his family, was diagnosed with acute and transient psychotic disorder (ATPD), a type of psychosis usually brought on by life stresses, with symptoms that do not persist for a long period of time.
"His mental health had deteriorated rapidly following the announcement of the results, with significant concerns about Brexit," Mohammad Zia Ul Haq Katshu, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham wrote in the report, citing the result as a factor precipitating the decline in his mental health.
"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," he warned.
Although Dr Katshu points out that preceding stress is reported in 30-50 percent of patients diagnosed with ATPD. Though the he states that the primary stressor in this man's case was Brexit due to the timing proximity, he points out that he had previously had a psychotic episode 13 years earlier, brought on by stress at work, and that the nature, evolution, and content of his psychopathology may have conceivably contributed to the onset of his (thankfully brief) condition.