Politics and health often intertwine, sometimes in hard-to-predict manners. In the UK, a man was brought to the emergency room following a psychotic episode induced by Brexit — the country’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the European Union.
The man in his 40s was brought to the hospital in an acute psychotic state, 3 weeks after the European Union referendum results in the UK were declared. His mental health had deteriorated rapidly following the announcement of the results, with significant concerns about Brexit. He “had auditory hallucinations, and paranoid, referential, misidentification and bizarre delusions”.
“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,” researchers write in the British Medical Journal.
The patient’s situation gradually improved within 2 weeks of medical treatment. Unlike the British political climate, the patient made a complete recovery — but the diagnosis of Brexit-induced psychosis lingers as an aide-memoire of how stressful political.
Psychosis is a broad medical term, usually referring to hallucinations or delusions about things that don’t exist. Oftentimes, psychosis is triggered by an underlying mental illness, but it can also be triggered by extreme stress, fatigue or brain injuries. Traumatic events can also trigger psychotic events.
In this case, the patient experienced increasing stress since the Brexit referendum. He became increasingly agitated and concerned about the racially motivated incidents following the referendum. He found it harder and harder to sleep and make sense of the political events unfolding before him. Drugs prescribed initially to alleviate these symptoms were ineffective, and his mental state continued to worsen until he was admitted to an acute psychiatric facility, where he stayed for 3 weeks.
The case is medically instructive, showing how acute stress produced by current events can produce serious psychological symptoms. Overall, stressful events precede up to 50% of all psychotic events, but the exact mechanisms through which the stress acts are still unclear.
But at the broader level, it also gives an indication of how much of the British population felt following the divisive vote. A recent study found that Brexit uncertainty affected the mental health of 1 in 3 young adults, and antidepressant consumption has increased starkly after the referendum. Simply put, aside from being a social, economic, and political issue, Brexit is also now a mental health issue, negatively affecting the British population, with no clear solution in sight.