Brief reactive psychosis

Brief reactive psychosis is a sudden display of psychotic behavior, such as hallucinations, prompted by a stressful event. The episode lasts longer than a day but less than a month.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors 

Brief reactive psychosis is precipitated by some type of extreme stressor (such as a traumatic accident or loss of a loved one), after which the person returns to the previous level of function. The individual may or may not be aware of the strange behavior.

This condition most commonly affects people in their 20s and 30s. People who have personality disorders are at greater risk for having a brief reactive psychosis.


A brief reactive psychosis is defined by having one of the following:

  • Ddelusions (false beliefs)  
  • Hallucinations  
  • Impaired speech or language (speech disturbances)  
  • Disorganized behavior

The symptoms are not due to alcohol or other drug abuse and last longer than a day but less than a month.

Signs and tests 

A psychological evaluation confirms the symptoms. A physical examination excludes possible physical disorders as the cause of the symptoms.


Antipsychotic drugs are usually prescribed to decrease or eliminate the psychotic symptoms and bizarre behavior. However, symptoms should subside on their own if the affected person is provided with a safe environment.

Psychotherapy may also help the person to cope with the emotional stress that triggered the problem initially.

Expectations (prognosis) 

The disorder is generally associated with a good outcome. Repeat episodes may occur as a response to stress.


As with all psychotic illnesses, complications include severe disruption of life and possible violence and suicide.

Calling your health care provider 

Call for an appointment with a mental health professional if symptoms of this disorder develop. If you are concerned for your safety or for the safety of someone else, call the local emergency number (such as 911) or go immediately to the nearest emergency room.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Harutyun Medina, M.D.

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