What Is Brief Psychotic Disorder?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on September 07, 2022
3 min read

This is what doctors call psychotic symptoms that come on suddenly but last only for a short time -- less than 1 month. After that, people usually recover completely.

There are three basic forms of brief psychotic disorders:

  1. Brief psychotic disorder with obvious stressor (also called brief reactive psychosis): This type happens shortly after a 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 type only happens in women, usually within 4 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 behavior 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 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 defense against or escape from a very frightening or stressful situation.

In most cases, the disorder is triggered by a major stress or traumatic event. For some women, childbirth can be a trigger.

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 obtain a medical and psychiatric history, possibly conduct a brief physical exam, and possibly obtain blood tests or urine tests to rule out other causes such as substance use. Sometimes a doctor might also order a brain imaging study (such as an MRI) if they think there may be an abnormality in brain structure based on the physical exam

If no obvious physical explanation is found for the symptoms, 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 for a psychotic disorder.

Someone experiencing a brief psychotic disorder will probably get medication to treat psychotic symptoms and possibly also psychotherapy (a type of counseling). They may need to be hospitalized for a time if their symptoms are severe or if they might harm themselves or someone else. The earlier the treatment, the better the outcome.

Medication: The doctor might prescribe antipsychotic medications to ease or eliminate the symptoms and end the brief psychotic disorder.

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

The FDA hasn’t approved any medicines specifically to treat brief psychotic disorder. Doctors often prescribe antipsychotics that are used to treat schizophrenia. These include:

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 tranquilizers such as diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan).

Brief psychotic disorder, by definition, lasts for less than 1 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 6 months, doctors may consider whether the person has schizophrenia.

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