Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination

Brief Psychotic Disorder

What is Brief Psychotic Disorder?

Brief Psychotic Disorder is a serious condition in which a person experiences a short episode of losing contact with reality. This is known a psychotic episode. The experience of psychosis, and sometimes its treatment (especially if compulsory) can be traumatic for all concerned. When it occurs, it is most often in adolescence or early adulthood.

A psychotic episode may develop over a number of days for someone who has previously been healthy and coped well with his or her usual activities and relationships. By definition a brief psychotic disorder is less than one month long. This is in contrast with other psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, where the symptoms may continue for longer periods.

Recurrent episodes of this condition are rare. If a person goes on to have a number of episodes it may mean that they are in the early stages of a more lasting condition such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Affective Disorder. This will only become apparent with time.

What causes Brief Psychotic Disorder?

What causes Brief Psychotic Disorder is unknown. Possible causes include inherited factors, or traumatic events in the person's past. A psychotic episode may be experienced after significant stress of some kind, such as the loss of a loved one or a traumatic event like an assault. It may also occur following the birth of a child. It is important to be open about any history of illicit drug use, as this can also cause brief episodes of psychotic symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

They are the same symptoms of the acute phase of schizophrenia, except they come on rapidly and resolve within a short period of time.

Symptoms include:

  • Delusions - being a particular type of unusual or altered belief that seems quite real to the person but are not shared by those around them. The person cannot be convinced that their beliefs are wrong.
  • Thought disturbances - are experiences of the person's thoughts being interfered with.
  • Hallucinations - occur when a person hears, sees, feels or smells something that is not actually there. Hearing voices that others cannot hear or when there is no one else in the room is very typical of psychosis.
  • Changing perceptions - where things seem to speed up or slow down.
  • Confused talk - when a persons speech is difficult for others to follow, or doesn't make sense
  • Changed feelings - where the person may think their feelings have disappeared or they may feel 'cut off' from the world.
  • Changed behaviour - when people with the above types of symptoms tend to behave differently from how they usually do.

Who gets it?

Brief psychotic disorder is rare. When it occurs, it is most often in adolescence or early adulthood.

How is Brief Psychotic Disorder diagnosed?

There is no medical test that can diagnose a brief psychotic disorder. A diagnosis is made when the person has some or all of a set of symptoms similar to those of acute episodes of schizophrenia. For this reason it is very important for a health professional to get a full understanding of the difficulties a person has had, from both the person and their family/whanau or others who know them well. It is particularly important to be open about any history of illegal drug use as this can cause brief episodes of psychotic symptoms. It may be necessary to deal drug use as the underlying cause of these symptoms.

Brief psychotic disorder should be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. This is because people can become very unwell during an episode and may be at risk of harming themselves or others.

How is Brief Psychotic Disorder treated?

Brief Psychotic Disorder can be effectively treated, and people should be able to recover from it; however the earlier the treatment is started, the better the chances of full recovery.

Treatment generally involves anti-psychotic medication and other medications according to the needs of the individual.

Psychosocial treatments generally are used when the acute phase of the illness is resolved. These may include education about the illness, the development of coping skills for the person and their family/whanau and problem solving techniques.

The person may also benefit from personal counseling or psychological therapy. Some people find complementary treatments such as vitamins, exercise or massage helpful, but these should be used in consultation with a psychiatrist.

For further information and support:

Resources in Taranaki:

Mahia Mai A Whai Tara (Kaupapa Maori Service)
8 Warre Street, Waitara
Tel: 06 754 4669

Raumano Health Trust (Kaupapa Maori Service)
63 Egmont Street, Patea
Tel: 06 273 6010
Fax: 06 273 6012

Taranaki Health Adult Mental Health Services (Main stream)
Taranaki Base Hospital, New Plymouth. 4310.
Tel: 06 753 7740
Fax: 06 753 7715

Child & Adolescent Health Services
Taranaki Base Hospital, New Plymouth. 4310.
Tel: 06 753 7790
Fax: 06 753 7791

Like Minds Taranaki
3rd floor, BNZ Building
Devon Street West, New Plymouth. 4310.
Tel: 06 759 0966
Fax: 06 759 0386
Free phone: 0800 454 536

Te Rau Pani - Maori Mental Health Services
Maru Wehi Hauora Complex
36 Maratahu Street, New Plymouth. 4343.
Tel: 06 759 7306
Fax: 06 759 7307

For following websites may be useful:

Mental Health Foundation - New Zealand

Mental Help Net Bipolar site:

A useful site developed by Child Adolescent Services, Taranaki Health, working with youth, covering many mental  health issues.


Like Minds Taranaki gratefully acknowledges the financial support of this website by the Ministry of Health

Feedback is always welcome
Like Minds Taranaki, 06-759-0966, email:

or on our Facebook page at:

Previous page: Psychotic Disorder
Next page: Delusional Disorder

Taranaki Mental Health Sector