Postpartum Psychosis is a severe mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. Postpartum Psychosis can involve severe mood changes, loss of touch with reality and hallucinations. Postpartum psychosis often begins within a few days after childbirth (and almost always within three months of the birth) and women typically show signs of being obviously ill and in need of psychiatric care.
The risk of Postpartum psychosis is greater for women who have had a similar illness before pregnancy or with a previous pregnancy, and for women who suffer from a manic-depressive disorder.
Postpartum Psychosis Stories
When Tina’s son was born, she had expected to be in seventh heaven, cooing contentedly to her little bundle of joy. Yet, there she was, just a few days after her delivery, crying buckets, begging her mother to take her child away because she was not ready to lose her freedom and her identity. Days passed. Then weeks. Suddenly one day, Tina almost tossed her two-month-old infant son off the balcony. Tina was sleep-deprived, thanks to all the midnight feedings and nappy changes, irritable because her breasts were painfully engorged and frustrated that her son just wouldn’t stop crying. She let out a bloodcurdling scream, and rushed to the balcony, poised to toss the bundle of misery out. In the nick of time, her husband intervened, and the baby was saved.
Samantha had a similar experience. Her daughter was colicky, which meant staying up for hours on end, trying to pacify the wailing infant. Her husband worked the night shift, so he was never around when she needed him. And when he was around, was fast asleep. She had little personal freedom to even read a book in peace. The whole set-up frustrated Samantha so much that she overdosed on sleeping pills, in an attempt to end the agony. Luckily she was saved.
And Rachel came with a similar story. She was distraught that she was a “bad” mother because she did not feel any affection towards her newborn twins. All she felt was resentment because she had had to give up her lucrative career to care for her children. She had no support, tight financial condition and a history of short-temperament and depression. Now, managing twin girls who were hungry together, colicky together and soiled their nappies together was driving her around the bend. One day, she placed her children outside the church door and ran away. She felt helpless and absolutely unable to handle the responsibility alone.
Each of the women mentioned above had one thing in common – they were all suffering from Postpartum Psychosis. Although most people are aware of something called the ‘baby blues’, which every new mother goes through, owing to hormonal changes in her system following childbirth, few people know about this serious, and often life-threatening condition. Research studies have shown that one in every eight new mothers suffers from this extremely debilitating malady, which in some cases can lead to suicide by the mother or even harm to the baby.
How do the symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis differ from Postnatal Depression or Baby Blues ?
Many women experience mild mood changes after having a baby. It is common to feel many different emotions.
Over half of new mothers will have the ‘Baby Blues’. This usually starts 3 to 4 days after birth. You may have mood swings. You may burst into tears easily. You can feel irritable, low and anxious at times. You may also over-react to things. It usually stops by the time your baby is about 10 days old. You don’t need treatment for Baby Blues.
Postnatal depression affects 10 to 15 in every 100 women after childbirth. The symptoms are similar to those in depression at other times. These include low mood and other symptoms lasting at least two weeks.
Postpartum psychosis is different from postnatal depression. It is a more severe illness. There are many different ways the illness can start. Women often have symptoms of depression or mania or a mixture of these. Symptoms can change very quickly from hour to hour and from one day to the next.
Postpartum Psychosis Symptoms
There are many symptoms that occur in postpartum psychosis. These may include :-
- Feeling ‘high’, ‘manic’ or ‘on top of the world’
- Low mood and tearfulness
- Anxiety or irritability
- Rapid changes in mood
- Severe confusion
- Being restless and agitated
- Racing thoughts
- Behavior that is out of character
- Being more talkative, active and sociable than usual
- Being very withdrawn and not talking to people
- Finding it hard to sleep, or not wanting to sleep
- Losing your inhibitions
- Feeling paranoid, suspicious, fearful
- Feeling as if you’re in a dream world
- Delusions: these are odd thoughts or beliefs that are unlikely to be true. For example, you might believe you have won the lottery. You may think your baby is possessed by the devil. You might think people are out to get you.
- Hallucinations: this means you see, hear, feel or smell things that aren’t really there.
You may not be able to look after yourself as well as you would when you are well. Your symptoms may make it very difficult for you to look after your baby. If you have postpartum psychosis you may not realize you are ill. Your partner, family or friends may recognize that something is wrong and need to ask for help.
How You Can Help Someone With Severe Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Psychosis
If you know someone who may be manifesting the symptoms of postpartum depression or Postpartum Psychosis, please encourage her to seek medical help at once. Be supportive and willing to listen if she wishes to ventilate her feelings. Many times, just having someone to listen patiently in a non-judgemental way can go a long way in helping a depressed mother.
Take heart!. All will be well again. Although postpartum depression or Postpartum Psychosis may cast a cloud over a family’s happiness, please be aware that with timely identification and treatment, there is hope. With the right treatment and support, the cloud can be lifted. Help can free a woman to feel like herself again, to regain her perspective and sense of her own strength, her energy, her joy, and her hope. With those things in place, it’s easier to work with changes, to see solutions to life’s challenges, and to enjoy life’s pleasures again – totally free from Postpartum Psychosis.