Brexit Referendum Triggered Man's Psychotic Disorder and Fear of 'Racial Incidents,' Doctor Says

The result of the Brexit referendum on whether the U.K. should stay in the European Union triggered a psychotic disorder in a man, according to a case study which highlights how political uncertainty can impact mental health.

The unnamed man in his 40s visited an emergency room in Nottingham, a city in the central Midlands, U.K., in what was described in the journal BMJ Case Reports as an "acute psychotic episode." A psychotic disorder can alter a person's perception of reality, affect their judgements, stop them from being able to communicate effectively, and behave appropriately.

The patient had developed "significant concerns about Brexit" and his mental health had "deteriorated rapidly" in the weeks following the referendum in June 2016.

His doctor, Mohammad Zia Ul Haq Katshu, wrote that the man appeared confused, paranoid, agitated, and perplexed at the hospital, and was experiencing auditory hallucinations, including people talking about him.

The patient also had "bizarre delusions," such as believing that two ends of a mathematical equation came from the Earth's poles, rotating on an axis. Without being prompted, he told doctors killing himself would prove he loved his wife.

At the hospital, he tried to dig the floor with his hands. He told doctors he wanted to "get the hell out of this place."

His wife told doctors her husband had spent more time expressing his feelings on social media in the wake of the vote. He also found it hard to come to terms with the political situation, and his sleep suffered.

The man, who described his family as "multicultural" said he had become increasingly worried about "racial incidents." He feared people were spying on him and planning to kill him. In what is known as a misidentification delusion, he thought two women he saw were the same person. Eventually, he started to throw items around the home which lead him to visiting the hospital.

The man was hospitalized for two weeks and was given olanzapine, a drug commonly use to treat mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar.

Around 13 years before, the patient had experienced a psychotic episode during a stressful period at work and at home, but wasn't hospitalized.

Offering his perspective in the case study, the patient said psychosis made him feel distracted and consumed by his thoughts, which felt as if they had sped up. It was as if he was at the center of a series of theatrical episodes, sometimes featuring friends or relatives from his past, he said.

"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," he said. "Many times, during these scenarios, I felt quite petrified."

He recalled being convinced his wife's relatives planned to shoot a missile at him using a device which could detect heat. He lay on his bed, spread-eagled, to provide "the best possible target," he recalled.

"That evening I was paralyzed 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," he said.

The man said he tried to create an algorithm which he thought would link how Facebook users used emojis to their own cultural experiences, but amounted to a "join the dots" diagram on a piece of paper. He believes his wife destroyed the paper because the idea was "exacerbating my psychotic state," he said.

Dr. Mohammad Zia Ul Haq Katshu wrote the case highlights how "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."

For instance, 66 percent of respondents to a survey in the U.S. following the 2016 presidential election said the future of the country made them feel stressed, and 57 percent felt stressed by the political climate.

Sotiris Vandoros, Senior Lecturer in Health Economics at King's College London who did not work on the study told Newsweek: "This study highlights an unusual example of how an individual might be affected by major political events at the national level."

He emphasized the case relates to one individual, and might not be generalizable to the general population.

"Previous research has shown that uncertainty in general can affect mental health. An important example is that of job insecurity," he continued.

"However, major political and financial events can also have health implications. For example, previous studies have linked economic uncertainty to a temporary increase in suicides and car crashes, and austerity measures to a spike in crashes. Further research is necessary to further disentangle the effects of major political and financial events on mental health."

Asked what constitutes a psychologically vulnerable person and how such a person can protect themselves during potentially shocking or worrying political events, he said: "Individuals should seek help from mental health services, while friends and family can also play an important role in providing support. Authorities should make sure that policies supporting mental health intensify during periods of uncertainty, also making the public aware of the availability of such services."

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours, every day.

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An EU flag and a Union flag held by a demonstrator is seen with Big Ben as marchers taking part in an anti-Brexit, pro-European Union march at Parliament Square in central London on March 25, 2017. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/Getty