Brexit caused a middle-aged remainer to suffer an “acute” mental breakdown, reveals a new report.
The man, in his 40s, was admitted to hospital three weeks after the Brexit referendum in June 2016 in an “acute psychotic state,” according to doctors.
He was described as “confused and very agitated,” with “disordered” thoughts and speech and was hearing “voices” in his head.
The patient was also “paranoid” and “delusional” – believing people were spying on him and planning to kill him, and that radio and TV discussions were targeted at him.
He described how he had “anxieties” about Brexit as his mental health began to deteriorate.
Doctors who treated him said he made a full recovery and was allowed home after two weeks. He has had no further episodes up to his last check-up in June.
But they warned in the journal BMJ Case Reports that the man’s experience illustrates how political events can take a “serious toll” on mental health.
Dr Mohammad Zia Ul Haq Katshu said people who are already psychologically vulnerable may be “particularly at risk” in such circumstances.
Dr Katshu, Clinical Associate Professor at Nottingham University’s Institute of Mental Health, said the patient was brought in to hospital by paramedics in an acute psychotic state, three weeks after the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
He said: “His mental health had deteriorated rapidly following the announcement of
the results, with significant concerns about Brexit.
“He presented as agitated, confused and thought disordered.
“He had auditory hallucinations, and paranoid, referential, misidentification and bizarre delusions.
“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, the patient’s mental health continued to worsen to the point that he needed urgent hospital treatment.
Dr Katshu said: “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 this year.
“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.”
The patient, who wants to remain anonymous, said: “The best way that I can describe my experiences of psychosis are as intense periods of accelerated thinking, of being distracted and consumed by my own thoughts, and of a series of theatrical episodes of which I am at the centre, sometimes featuring friends or relatives from my own past.
“Some of the scenarios occurred just as daydreams which dominated my concentration and other times the situations were brought to life through hallucinations or by me misinterpreting what I was seeing or hearing.
“Although each scenario seemed random, most of them were connected somehow in my own mind and all I believed to be real.
“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.
“That evening I was paralysed by the choice of which bedtime story I should read to one of my children because in my mind there was a right book and a wrong book depending on whether I would die that night or a subsequent night.
“This was in the summer of 2016 and, as well as my own anxieties about Brexit, it was also a time when a friend of mine was experiencing immense anxiety about what was happening around him in the US and we were talking together on social media about racial issues.
“I remember having a desire to see Facebook providing better tools for people in this plight, so I set about designing an algorithm that would connect users’ emojis to their own cultural experience.
“The idea got as far as a complex ‘join the dots’ diagram on a piece of paper.
“I think my wife destroyed it because of the extent to which it was preoccupying my mind and exacerbating my psychotic state.
“At work I was in the middle of an installation and I remember hearing the TV on in the background. I started to believe that I was under surveillance.
“I remember my ears pricking up when a voice said, ‘he’s very observant.’
“I remember driving and hearing the radio presenters talking about me as if they could see me and knew what I was thinking.”
He added: “Many times, during these scenarios, I felt quite petrified.
“At one point when I was being held in a hospital interview room, I believed that we were in the basement of a tower block that was going to be pulled down in a 9/11 style attack.
“I spent the entire time studying the walls and exit doors and watching people through the narrow window in the fire door to try and work out whether they were entering or evacuating the building and if there was any hope of escape.”
Dr Katshui said: “Political events can be a source of significant psychological stress.”
He cited 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.
And he said similar surveys in Britain after the Brexit referendum showed that it was one of the major sources of anxiety among the young.
Dr Katshui added: “In this case, the man had had a psychotic episode 13 years earlier, which had been related to work stress.
“This had been much less severe and he had recovered within a few days, but it suggests that he may already have been psychologically vulnerable.
“Identifying the early warning signs of acute and transient psychotic episodes, particularly during stressful situations, is important to ensure prompt treatment and quick recovery – factors that are associated with a better long term outlook.”
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