What is Postpartum Psychosis?
Psychosis is the name given to a particular group of mental illnesses where there is a loss of contact with reality.
With time and careful management, most people do recover fully and many never experience another episode. Postpartum psychosis, although relatively rare, is the most dramatic and severe mental illness for a mother to experience and requires emergency specialist treatment as an inpatient in a psychiatric unit.
In Ireland, if a mother has to be admitted to a psychiatric facility, there are no mother and baby units available, therefore the mother will be admitted without her baby. But this should not worry you, or put you off getting treatment. It is essential that you get the help needed.
Postpartum psychosis affects approximately one in every 1,000 women in Ireland and is more common after a first pregnancy. With this illness the possibility of suicide or infanticide is very real. The degree of risk to the mother and her infant require careful assessment and consideration, and the relationship between the two must be monitored closely as the ability of the mother to make safe decisions is most definitely compromised.
It is important for a mother to understand and recognise some of the symptoms that come with battling postpartum psychosis so she can receive the appropriate treatment.
- Previous mental illnesses in a mother’s life
- Genetic predisposition and family history relating to mental health
- Social, environmental and psychological stress factors may contribute to the severity of this illness
- Severely disturbed mood and behaviour patterns
- Very quick mood swings from high to low in a very short time
- Extreme thought disorder – a disturbance in thought processes which may be evident in the mother’s speech
- Delusional thoughts and behaviours, false and firmly held beliefs
- Mothers may struggle with conversations and make no sense when talking
- Mothers can experience hallucinations
- A mother’s behaviour may be odd or uncharacteristic.
- Mothers may experience sleep disturbances, such as difficulty getting to sleep, waking frequently during the night or getting up very early which may not be related to the baby’s needs
- Mothers may be in denial about how they are feeling and may fail to recognise or accept that help and support is needed
Options for recovery
- Hospitalisation – admission to an inpatient psychiatric hospital is almost always necessary as specialist treatment is required.
- Medication – also usually necessary and may include antipsychotic medication, mood stabilizers and antidepressants. These need to be carefully prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist.
The rate of recurrence in a future pregnancy is relatively high, especially if the interval between pregnancies is short, so careful family planning, monitoring and specialist follow up visits with the GP are crucial.
You are not alone and ‘It really is okay to talk about it’ If you or a loved one are experiencing Postpartum psychosis or any of the above symptoms please call your GP immediately. After hospitalisation please contact our mental health partner, Nurture.
With professional help, a woman can feel well again. There is a sense of hope and light at the end of the tunnel.
Written by Irene Lowry for eumom