It’s Mental Health Monday and this week I wanted to shed light on a condition that is often overlooked – Postpartum Psychosis. This condition is known as a psychiatric emergency and guidelines suggest that it is reported and responded to within 4 hours of its presentation. It affects 1-2 women in 1000 and often comes on suddenly within the first two weeks of birth, but can take as long as six months to present. So what is it and what do we do about it?
The information in this article is for informational purposes only, and is not to be taken as medical advice. Any health concern or condition should be addressed by a doctor or other appropriate health care professional. The information and opinions found on this website are written based on the best data available at the time of writing, and are believed to be accurate according to the best discernment of the author.
What is Postpartum Psychosis?
Postpartum Psychosis is a severe mental illness that occurs after the birth of a baby. It must be treated immediately or the mother and baby can be at risk as a result of the mother’s deterioration. With the right support and treatment, mothers can make a full recovery and go on to never experience psychosis again. It is not something to fear, but something we can all work together to understand and support. Expectant parents are often not informed of the risk of this condition and are unaware of what can happen. It is vital that awareness is spread.
Signs and symptoms
- Elation, excitement, or being ‘high’ that is uncharacteristic or unusual
- Feeling depressed, anxious, or confused
- A significant change in mood, such as irritability
For it to be psychosis, it must include one of the following:
- Strange beliefs that could not be true (also known as delusions)
- Hearing, seeing, smelling, or feeling things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
- High mood with loss of touch with reality (mania)
- Severe confusion
Other common symptoms:
- Being more talkative, sociable, on the phone an excessive amount.
- Having a very busy mind or racing thoughts.
- Feeling very energetic and like ‘super-mum’ or agitated and restless.
- Having trouble sleeping, or not feeling the need to sleep.
- Behaving in a way that is out of character or out of control.
- Feeling paranoid or suspicious of people’s motives.
- Feeling that things are connected in special ways or that stories on the TV or radio have special personal meaning.
- Feeling that the baby is connected to God or the Devil in some way.
As you can see, these symptoms can be very distressing and scary for someone and they need support and treatment to overcome them. There are many other symptoms that have not been listed here, so I have included a video of a woman’s lived experience with Postpartum Psychosis.
Who is at risk?
Postpartum Psychosis does not discriminate and you do not need to have a history of mental illness to experience it. There are some groups of women that are more at risk than others.
Women with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia, or a previous diagnosis of a schizoaffective disorder or psychotic episode. Their risk increases to between 25-50%.
Women whose mother or sister has had postpartum psychosis or a woman who has had this illness herself after a previous pregnancy. Their risk also increases to around 25-50%.
Women whose mother or sister has had postpartum psychosis but they have no history of mental illness themselves. The risk increases to 3 in 100 as opposed to 1-2 in 1000.
This information was taken from the Action on Postpartum Psychosis website.
How should I respond to it?
If you or your partner/relative thinks you are exhibiting signs of Postpartum Psychosis, you need to be seen urgently. If you cannot access your GP, call NHS 111 or go directly to A&E. If you are told that you do not have this condition but your symptoms worsen, ensure that you are seen again.
Who is there to help?
Once seen by medical professionals, the best case scenario is that a mother is taken to a Mother and Baby Unit where she and her newborn can be kept together safely while she is treated. She will be offered support by mental health teams, psychiatrists, nurses. and perinatal teams. The NHS has recently dispatched large amounts of money in the 10 year plan to ensure that Perinatal-specific Mental Health teams and Mother and Baby Units are readily available across the UK.
Action on Postpartum Psychosis are the leading national charity for this illness. They offer guidance and support for new parents and carers of those with Postpartum Psychosis.
Mental health charity Mind also offers advice and support.
It is important to remember that you are not alone and that you will be supported through this whether you are the mother or the partner in this scenario. The more awareness that is raised, the better we will be at spotting it early and treating it. Unfortunately, many will have only heard of Postnatal Depression or the ‘baby blues’ so hopefully articles like mine can spread the word and help many more new parents!