Brief Psychotic Disorder

Brief psychotic disorder is essentially a brief period during which a person is having psychotic symptoms. Although this disorder has many symptoms in common with schizophrenia, it is not the same. It is a much rarer disorder, for one thing. In fact, partially because of its brevity, statistics on the prevalence of this psychiatric illness are difficult to find. Also, unlike schizophrenia, the symptoms are present for as little as a day, and less than one full month.

Symptoms of Brief Psychotic Disorder

In order to meet the criteria for the disorder per the DSM-IV, one of the following symptoms must be present during the short time period:

  • Hallucinations (e.g., hearing voices or seeing things)
  • Delusions (firmly believing something is real which isn’t, despite contrary evidence or proof)
  • Extremely disorganized or catatonic behavior (e.g., acting very bizarrely, sudden agitation, being in a stupor)
  • Disorganized speech (e.g., gibberish)

Predisposing risk factors

People who have certain types of personality disorders – borderline, narcissistic, paranoid, histrionic or schizotypal – are more prone to develop this disorder. The disorder is more common in younger individuals (late 20s to early 30s), and it often develops shortly after the person has experienced one or more very distressing events. It also may occur within a month of giving birth.


Typically this disorder is treated with a combination of hospitalization and antipsychotic medication. Once the psychotic symptoms have subsided, follow up treatment, such as psychotherapy, should address the emotional effects of the episode on the person, as well as explore the existence of a personality disorder and continue psychotherapy if indicated.

written by Dr. Cheryl Lane, PsyD