For one British man, the controversial vote that led to Brexit in 2016 might have literally driven him around the bend, causing a temporary bout of psychosis.
The strange tale was detailed by the man’s physicians this week in BMJ Case Reports. According to the paper, the man—only described to be in his 40s—had been brought to an emergency room by paramedics three weeks after the pivotal June 24 2016 referendum vote that set Brexit into motion. The paramedics had been called to the man’s home after he became agitated and began throwing things.
By the time he reached the emergency room, the man was in the middle of an acute psychotic state, feeling confused and unable to form cogent thoughts. At one point, he tried to “dig the floor with his hands to ‘burrow’ through the floor to ‘get the hell out of this place.’” He also experienced paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations that people were talking about him behind his back.
According to his and his wife’s recollection, the man’s symptoms all started after the Brexit vote. He was unable to sleep and worried about the ramifications of the vote, including racially motivated attacks on the public, and his mental health continued to worsen despite antidepressant and insomnia medication. He also started to fear that a TV at work was surveilling him.
The man was admitted to a psychiatric ward, where he was placed on antipsychotics and thankfully begun to recuperate. Within a few days, he had recovered fully and was discharged two weeks later. Once he returned home, he was gradually weaned off his antipsychotic medication. And of June 2019, he’s been doing perfectly well.
“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,” the man wrote in an accompanying patient perspective.
The Brexit vote likely wasn’t the only reason for the man’s breakdown. More than a decade earlier, he had experienced a similar though much milder episode, following major work-related stress, so he was already more susceptible to such an illness. And at the time of the more recent episode, he had also recently lost a case in small claims court. But the man’s anxiety over Brexit was undoubtedly a major source of stress that helped instigate the episode, his doctors say.
During his time in the psychiatric ward, he reported feeling ashamed about being British, and he worried about how his “multicultural” family would make it through everything. “I was looking at the electoral map of voting for the EU. I am in a constituency that reflects an opinion that is not for me,” he said at one point.
While this might be the first reported case of Brexit-related psychosis, it’s unsurprisingly not the first time politics has ruined people’s mental health. In the U.S., there has been at least one similar case of a woman with no past history developing psychosis following the 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, a study published just this month suggested that nearly 40 percent of Americans have experienced stress recently over the state of politics, with more than 10 percent having experienced health problems, like a lack of sleep, and 4 percent possibly having contemplated suicide as a result.