Postpartum psychosis: mental illness after childbirth should not be taboo

Naomi, a Time to Change bloggerThink of any advert you have seen recently portraying a new mum and her baby. I'm guessing the room in the background will be white with gleaming surfaces, a distinct lack of sicky muslins or half-drunk cups of tea, and most definitely mum will be back in her pre-pregnancy jeans. Mum and baby will smile and cuddle and laugh. I guess we all know that life won't really look like an advert but a subtle expectation pervades; motherhood will make you rapturously happy.

Three days after my baby daughter was born, I was indeed rapturously happy. Surrounded by flowers, a swaddled bundle in my arms, I felt incredible. In fact, I was so happy and overwhelmed with love that I couldn't sleep. I couldn't stop my mind and wrote endless notes about my gorgeous daughter and her special place in the world. Seven days later I would be admitted to a psychiatric ward, convinced that I had a mission from God to bring about the end of the world.

I was suffering from postpartum psychosis

I was suffering from postpartum psychosis (also known as puerperal psychosis). Although 1-2 in 1000 women experience this condition after childbirth, I had never heard of it and neither had my husband or family. You won't find it mentioned in antenatal classes, or in baby books, or even in leaflets about postnatal depression - save perhaps a scant sentence. But when my husband googled it to find out more, he came across horror stories of child murder and suicide.

Stigma hits both ways for postpartum psychosis. Firstly, the reality of this illness is hidden from view in pregnancy. Midwives are taught very little about it and it just feels too terrible to mention to expectant mothers that they might become seriously ill. So we don't talk about the early warning signs: sleeplessness, feeling very high and elated, or experiencing dramatic mood swings, talking or writing a lot, or developing unusual beliefs. And then the signs are missed and tragedies happen. Secondly, women with postpartum psychosis are portrayed as monsters on the internet with stories focusing on every salacious detail of the tragic death of a mother and child.

The reality is that many women, like me, go on to make a full recovery.

Even today, seven years from my episode of postpartum psychosis, it is difficult to find a media story focusing on the remarkable recovery that most women and families make. BBC Newsnight recently featured a 15-minute film on the condition, yet each story featured risk to a baby's safety. The reality is that many women, like me, go on to make a full recovery.

Nowadays, as a mental health educator, I have the chance to tell my story to medical students and health professionals who will work with new mothers in the future. I hope that my message will be clear: severe mental illness after childbirth should not be a taboo. We need to talk about it so that we can recognise, treat quickly and prevent tragedy.

What do you think about the issues raised in this blog? Share your views with us on Twitter >>

Or pledge to share your experience of mental health today and find out how talking tackles discrimination.


Find out more about Postpartum Psychosis >>


 

Comments

thank you

Thanks for speaking out about your experiences. I have psychotic depression which i am on meds for, for life - until i become pregnant (not allowed on antipsychotics whilst pregnant apparently). A few days without my meds and i experience psychosis. its a worry of mine that in the future when i have children i may become unwell as you have or something similar so thanks for blogging about how you have fully recovered. it gives me hope. xxx

Thank you all for your

Thank you all for your positive contributions to the discussion. For Anon above, I would definitely recommend having a pre-conception consultation with a specialist perinatal psychiatrist, as there are many options for medications which are safe during pregnancy. It's so important to balance the benefits of keeping mothers well during pregnancy with up to date information on medication risks. Here's a link to the liaison psychiatry service at Cardiff which you can access at no charge to your local NHS provider http://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/getting-help/second-opinion-service/ Best wishes to you all.

Think twice about becoming get pregnant

I have never had psychosis but I have severe depression, aniexty, ocd with my son. I'm now 26 weeks and like a ton of bricks it is hitting me again this time I'm pregnant. Now I have to take medication whether I like it or not and worry about my baby and if she will be ok. I really wanted another child but right now how I feel I should of thought about it a little more then I did. Pregnancy usually makes mental illness worse especially if you get off your medication.

postpartum psychosis

Naomi, Thankyou so much for sharing your story. It's a very brave thing to do, it's not easy talking of mental health issues at all, particularly so of post natal episodes with all the world's expectations of a new mother. This type of psychosis, as pointed out, is widely unrecognised and misreported. I feel the real tragedy is the amount of anguish that could be avoided if media representations stopped demonizing this illness and health professionals/ mums- to- be received factual education. I'm pleased that you made a good recovery and have opportunity to address this issue.

Courage

Thank you for writing this Naomi. I've suffered psychosis too and I've recovered. In the early days when I was volunteering at a primary school to get my confidence back I came across a teacher who was recovering from Postpartum Psychosis, for both of us it was a real relief to find someone else who understood what it was like to discover your brain had led you to believe something that really wasn't true. It's a very strange experience and it has left me with a lot of anxiety. I'm still battling to make a life for myself so it's really good to hear that you have used your experiences to help communicate the message that recovery is not just possible, but probable with the right care and that you have the opportunity to educate the people who need to know about this illness positively. Keep up the good work. :) K

postpartum OCD

Hi, I also suffered from something after childbirth which is never discussed. Everyone knows about PND, but after the birth of my first child it triggered severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which became a lot, lot worse in my subsequent pregnancy and birth. I needed the help of a support worker, a psychologist and a doctor just to get through the last couple of months of pregnancy and the first few months after the birth of my daughter. I was very, very ill in the maternity hospital but couldn't tell people what was going on in my head. It was terrifying, and I am very lucky to be alive today to enjoy my wonderful children. At one point I felt like I couldn't go on, and the support I had kept me alive literally. I feel so sorry for women who don't have the support I had, and suffer in silence. Every time I hear one of those terrible news stories I always wonder how much the poor woman was suffering without support. I had my tubes tied after my second child though, as I could never go through the same thing again. I also still take medication, though after two years I would say I am 95% better. There needs to be more awareness of other mental health issues surrounding pregnancy and birth. Sometimes it's not just anxiety. KM

thank you

Thank you so much for pointing out that in many cases there is no risk to the baby & that we can make a full recovery. Very well written & all valid points. If expectant mothers, their families & the healthcare professionals responsible for their care were better informed cases of pp could be caught much earlier & treatment would be more appropriate. The NHS needs to take better care of the mums after childbirth.

Post partum depression

I suffered this after my son was born and recovered in 2 years and learned it was caused be an imbalance in hormones and stress. I used a little medication but found that what really helped me was going to work and I learned meditation.

Thank you for your post

Thank you for helping to eliminate stigma and for talking about such a sensitive issue. Education is so important. If you would like to check out articles I wrote on postpartum psychosis, the links are below. jennifermoyer.com

Similar Stories

Naomi, Thank you for writing this post. I feel like you wrote my exact thoughts on the matter. I, too, am a survivor of postpartum psychosis. I, too, have a happy ending - with my son and myself healthy and happy. I am still recovering - 2 years later. I am still on medication and still working on me. But my son is thriving and is a very happy baby. I am so glad you wrote this post. Thank you for being a voice. Keep talking and bringing awareness to this illness. I, too, am working on being a voice. I will tell my story as many times as I can.

Thank you for sharing

Thank you for this post. It helps bring better understanding of postpartum psychosis. It is preventable and can be overcome with proper treatment and support.

PND

thank you for sharing this :) i am a younger mother and never had depression, then when my son was 4 months i was in a low place, i couldnt get out of bed in the mornings luckly i was living with my parents, only my mum knew what was going on, i didnt go and see someone about it until my son was 16 months, if i had read something like this sooner i would have talked to someone before it got worse. xx

After Birth Depression

I was quite young with my first child and was on my own as my partner and I separated 6 months before the child birth. My own parents lived some 50+ miles away and I lived alone in my one bedroom flat. A few weeks after the child birth I noticed a few changes in myself sleeping most of the day lazying around in my PJs all day and generally just felling down. my sister come to visit for the weekend and ended up staying for weeks as she noticed the change in me and even told me I had depression with all the signs. I got help at my local healthcare unit and support from my sister that help me get back on my feet and thankfully my little girl and I are happy and healthily. Depression after child birth just creeps up on you unaware,

Pueperal psychpsis

Thanks for bringing this to peoples attention.i suffeterd from this illness 26 yesrs ago and wanted all new mu ms that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I was admitted.to.a mother and baby unit in a psychiatric hospital for 3 months I went on to have ano ther son but had post natel depression but did not go into hospital. it does not last forever and you will get better.

Puerperal psychosis

I too wanted to add hope to all those out there suffering. In 1989 my Dad died unexpectantly at the age of 58. I didn't want any more of my family to not see my children, so we decided to try for a baby. In 1990 I had my first child aged 25. I had no previous mental episodes and was sectioned to a psychiatric hospital 10 days after she was born. I was high but my poor husband had no idea what was happening. I went in and out of a psychiatric hospital for three months and eventually after five different medications and ECT treatment, I was then given Lithium. By this stage my baby was six months old but I for the first time since she was born, felt more like my old self! I was on Lithium for a year and have not needed it since. We decided we wanted more children and I went on a research project for baby number two. I used Oestrogen patches and luckily this time I was not ill and could fully enjoy my son. I also used oestrogen patches for baby number three! I was under a professor working out of the Muadsley Hospital in London, even though I lived in Gloucestershire for my two younger children. I have a four and a half year age gap between my eldest two children which may have also been a factor in why I didn't suffer again and obviously I had not lost my Dad! I don't regret my mental episode. It made me a stronger person, helped me understand mental illness and appreciate how lucky I am to have three healthy and happy children. Good luck to all those currently suffering. There is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it might not seem like that at the moment.

Puerperal psychosis and hormone treatment

Like Sally I suffered PP out of the blue with my first child and was hospitalised at day 7 after the birth. The first week, separated from my baby in a general ward and threatened with ECT was terrifying. Then moved to better treatment in an MBU. For my second and third pregnancies I used progesterone injection followed by suppositories and was well and happy. This was in the 1980s. Strangely this treatment is hard to come by now. But given the high probability of a repeat illness the outcome seems encouraging.

There Can Be A Happy Ending

Thank you for sharing your story and experiences. I agree 100% that this illness no longer needs to be kept hidden in the dark. I wish I would have known the warning signs. With my first child I suffered from PPD, recovered in time. My second son brought on Severe PPS. I want to find a way to also share my own story and experiences to those women who may be struggling with nowhere to turn. This illness isnt always like the media makes it out to be. Even when I had one of its most severe forms, not once did I feel the need to hurt my child. More help needs to be available for our cases because I was hospitalized and nothing was done, simply for the fact that Drs cannot see the signs and I appeared to be normal on the outside, while on the inside I knew something was wrong. I feel so strongly about trying to help other women because going through an episode was so mind boggling, and I do want people to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I have made a full 100% recovery and I am now a little bit more comfortable with sharing what all I went through. This happened 2 years ago for me and now I am a nursing student, due to the fact of all the crude nurses in the medical field I encountered. Thank you for pointing out that this illness is in no way what Hollywood makes it out to be. It is also no laughing matter. I had friends telling everyone that I was going crazy. I didnt need all of that, I needed love and support because I didnt know what was going on. I look up to you, Naomi for being able to open up a little about your experience because I do know how hard that is to do. :) I really would like to know more about where to share my experience to help other women as well :)

Post partum psychosis

13months ago I gave birth to my son after two miscarriages. I had a history of a lot of anxiety and OCD. While pregnant I was extremely happy even having a high risk pregnancy. Once my son was born I was elated high as a kite. Then the mania came but I hid it from everyone trying to be the perfect mom... Then my brain wouldn't stop it felt like my brain was going 100miles per hour and I understood everything about the universe. I read and wrote things with a crazy understanding... My husband didn't know what to do and didn't reach out for help. It wasn't until I decided to stop breast feeding and get help myself was when I hit rock bottom and was hospitalized. I took charge of my own care and things fell apart. No one could stop me, Drs didn't know what to do with me and I grew sicker and sicker. I wish I would've just got on a plane with my baby while still nursing and flew to England. It seems like the mother and baby unit is the best thing for new mums. Now with my son 13months old I feel like he and I are lucky to be alive because I truly lost my mind. It just breaks my heart I am forever scared by what I did to my son, husband and family. I pray that no woman ever had to suffer what I went through and their baby.

What did you think of this blog? Tell us in the comments

Email updates

Keep up to date with all our news, information and events via email.

Media centre

Guidelines and contacts for all those who work in the media.

Resources

Download leaflets, posters, reports and guidance.

Need support?

If you need urgent support there are many places to go for help.