After an incredibly brave, humbling and eye-opening conversation we had with postpartum psychosis survivor, Eve Canavan, we wanted to share some information about this rare but serious mental health illness that often goes un- or mis-diagnosed, so that you as a Mama, or you as a partner or friend of someone who experiences this can tell the signs and know how to help.
Eve is coordinator of the UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week for the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership, and as you’ll hear in her story even the health professionals she sought help from where unable to recognise postpartum psychosis, and when they did, not all of them knew how to help her. Please help spread the work about this severe and sometimes frightening illness, so that no women have to suffer alone or for long.
The below information was provided by the Action for PostPartum Psychosis (APP) website. For more information please visit: app-network.org
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS?
Postpartum Psychosis (PP) is a severe, but treatable form of mental illness that occurs after having a baby. It can happen ‘out of the blue’ to women without previous experience of mental illness. There are some groups of women, women with a history of bipolar disorder for example, who are at much higher risk. PP normally begins in the first few days to weeks after childbirth. It can get worse very quickly and should always be treated as a medical emergency. Most women need to be treated with medication and admitted to hospital.
With the right treatment, women with PP do make a full recovery. Recovery takes time and the journey may be tough. The illness can be frightening and shocking for both the woman experiencing it and her family. Women do return to their normal selves, and are able to regain the mothering role they expected. There is no evidence that the baby’s long term development is affected by Postpartum Psychosis.
The period after childbirth can be a devastating time to experience a severe mental illness. For women who experience PP, their partners, friends and family, it can be hard to find high quality information about the symptoms, causes and treatment.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
There are a large variety of symptoms that women with PP can experience. Women may be:
- Excited, elated, or ‘high’.
- Depressed, anxious, or confused.
- Excessively irritable or changeable in mood.
Postpartum Psychosis includes one or more of the following:
- Strange beliefs that could not be true (delusions).
- Hearing, seeing, feeling or smelling things that are not there (hallucinations).
- High mood with loss of touch with reality (mania).
- Severe confusion.
These are also 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.
There are a great many other symptoms that can be experienced. For more information see mums’ and dads’ personal descriptions of PP.
WHAT’S THE DIAGNOSIS?
Postpartum Psychosis is the label used by most professionals for an episode of mania or psychosis with onset soon after childbirth. However, other names can be used and this can be confusing. You might hear the terms: Puerperal Psychosis; Postnatal Psychosis; Mania or Bipolar Disorder triggered by childbirth (this doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner will develop ongoing Bipolar Disorder); Schizoaffective Disorder with onset following childbirth (this doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner will develop ongoing Schizoaffective Disorder); Postnatal Depression with psychotic features.
There are many other mental health conditions that occur following childbirth, including Postnatal Depression (PND), severe anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is important that these conditions are not grouped under the term ‘Postnatal Depression’. PND is much more common than PP, but tends to require different treatments and has different causes and outcomes.
WHAT’S THE CAUSE?
Unfortunately we know little about the causes of PP. Research points to biological, probably hormonal, factors related to pregnancy and childbirth but many other factors are likely to be involved.
For further information about PP take a look at APP’s Frequently Asked Questions, read their Insider Guides, see the Royal College of Psychiatrists PP patient information leaflet which APP have helped to develop, read the personal stories of APP members, and find out about the research APP are conducting to help understand more about the condition.
ABOUT ACTION FOR POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS
APP’s Peer Support network helps women and families affected by PP feel understood, supported and less isolated. With the support of world-leading academic and clinical experts, an amazing, supportive, peer-led, lived experience community has been developed. The Peer Support community has been described as “life changing”, “lifting me from the shadows of a life half-lived” and a “good and precious resource to all who have been affected by PP”. Our evaluation shows that the service saves lives and improves recovery outcomes. It is the only PP support network in the UK, and the largest in the world with over 900 members.
Our workshops, conferences and arts events enable women to articulate their experience of PP and develop information to help other women and families. We facilitate ground-breaking research into the causes of PP at the universities of Birmingham and Cardiff and produce ‘Insider Guides’ and other expert literature to support affected families and health professionals caring for those with PP.
APP is a collaborative project run by women who have experienced PP, specialist health professionals and academic experts from Birmingham and Cardiff Universities. Our project is based within the Mood Disorders Research Group in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. We are very grateful for their support.