What You Should Know About Brief Psychotic Disorder in Teens

You might know about various psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other conditions that last for years, if not a lifetime. If your teen is suffering from psychotic behaviors that clear up within a month, however, he or she might have brief psychotic disorder. Often following a traumatic event, brief psychotic disorder can be a frustrating and overwhelming experience to go through for both your adolescent and for you. Here is some information that can help you understand and cope with this mental health condition.


The symptoms of brief psychotic disorder usually start abruptly. This means that your teen might be fine one day and exhibit disturbing symptoms the next day. The symptoms can include bizarre behavior, a strange posture, delusions, hallucinations, speech that doesn’t make sense, a catatonic state, screaming or refusing to speak at all, and other severe behavioral changes. Violence is not often involved, but it can be sometimes. Your teen will likely not be able to function well enough to attend school, go to sports practice, or take part in their normal activities. He or she might not be able to participate in regular family conversations or activities, either.

One important distinction of brief psychotic disorder is that it is not caused by drug use or other psychiatric disorders. Sometimes a manic episode of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or certain types of drugs can cause psychotic behavior that lasts less than a month, but that is something separate from the condition of brief psychotic disorder.


Brief psychotic disorder is poorly understood in terms of why some people get it and some do not. In most cases, the cause is a traumatic event. In women, this event is sometimes childbirth. Most people who develop the condition are in their 20s or 30s, but it can occur in teens or in older adults. If conditions like bipolar disorder or depression run in your family, you or your teen might have a higher chance of developing this condition after a traumatic event. Since most people do not have brief psychotic disorder after a stressful event, however, it’s not anything that you can really take steps to prevent. Relapses are also rare, so there’s no need to do anything to prevent it from happening again in the future, though your teen should let his or her doctors know about having had brief psychotic disorder, just in case symptoms do return later in life.


When you take your teen to the doctor with symptoms of brief psychotic disorder, the doctor will want to run some tests to be sure that there is not a medical or pharmacological cause. For example, he or she might check to see if there are any substances in your child’s bloodstream that could be causing the behavior. They might also suggest an MRI or other type of brain imaging to check for a problem with the brain. Once it’s determined that the condition is psychiatric, you’ll get a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist for treatment.

Most patients with this disorder benefit from psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Psychotherapy can help your teen learn to cope with the feelings and thoughts that are causing the psychotic behavior, and medication can calm them down or reduce the psychotic thoughts. Medication is only given during the acute phase of the disorder, so your teen won’t be on them longer than one month. In some cases, a teen might need to be hospitalized for a short time. This is especially true if the doctors think that they’re at an increased risk of suicide or if the medications are not working as expected. In milder cases, just removing the stressor can be enough to make the symptoms tolerable enough to handle without additional treatment.

After Brief Psychotic Disorder

One of the main characteristics of brief psychotic disorder is that it’s a short-term condition. It fully resolves within one month, and your teen will be back to his or her normal personality and behavior. This doesn’t necessarily mean that treatment ends, however. It’s possible that your teen has another mental illness that made him or her more susceptible to developing brief psychotic disorder in the first place. If that’s the case, they’ll need treatment for the condition that they still have.

Also, counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy can help your son or daughter cope with the events of the past few weeks, particularly if they’ve been hospitalized or needed intensive treatment. Therapy can also help your teen cope with catching up in school, reconnecting with friends, and picking up on his or her normal life after a few weeks spent dealing with this condition.

Most of the time, the symptoms will completely abate and your teen won’t experience them again. In rare cases, brief psychotic disorder can return later in life. If it is persistent, it might be something other than brief psychotic disorder. Be vigilant for symptoms of the condition returning, but don’t obsess over it; in most cases, the disorder won’t return.

Getting Help for Yourself

Caring for a teen with brief psychotic disorder is extremely draining on you, as a parent. Whether or not your child was hospitalized or showed signs of being suicidal, you will spend (or have spent) those weeks worrying intensely about your child and possibly having to manage his or her medications, counseling sessions, and other treatments. If you’re having trouble coping, it’s important that you get yourself the help you need. Find a counselor or treatment center that can help you get through and past this difficult time. Talk to your child’s therapist or center for a referral; they might also offer a support group for parents of teens with mental health conditions.

Brief psychotic disorder is an overwhelming, surprising and stressful diagnosis and experience, but with your support and and excellent healthcare team, your teen will likely be back to his or her regular self within a matter of weeks. Still, the disorder can have effects in the family and in your relationship with your teen that persist past a month, so don’t be afraid to seek counseling for yourself, your teenager, and other family members if you have trouble moving past this.