Louis Theroux’s ‘Mothers on the Edge’ – busting the myths of postpartum psychosis

Tommy’s Midwifery Manager, Kate Pinney, praises tonight’s BBC documentary ‘Mothers on the Edge’ for highlighting the difficult issues for women experiencing and recovering from postpartum psychosis.

Picture credit: BBC

Spoiler alert: Please do not read any further if you do not want to know what happens in the programme.

In the latest documentary by filmmaker Louis Theroux, he spent time in 2 mother and baby units, meeting 5 women and their families who are experiencing and recovering from postpartum psychosis.

‘Mothers on the Edge’ highlighted the complexities of postpartum mental health, the unpredictability and different experiences of the women affected, both in the past, during pregnancy, labour and after the birth of their baby.

A strong theme that ran throughout the programme is that of expectations of motherhood; the pressures to portray an appearance of coping and perfection or matching up to what is the ideal.

Several women described hiding what they were going through and feeling the need to have ‘a mask’ when, in reality, they were feeling anxious, low, resentful or not feeling anything at all.

The programme also showed that pregnancy and parenthood can bring about many feelings and emotions, often in reaction to past events such as trauma and loss. This can often be compounded by a traumatic birth experience.

There are lots of myths about postpartum psychosis. The programme helped shed some light and explain the realities:

  • it can actually happen anytime in the first year after the baby is born – it doesn’t always present straight away after the birth
  • psychotic symptoms are not always immediately obvious – they can develop or present as worsening postpartum depression
  • although it is more common in women who have a history of mental health conditions, it can affect women who have no history at all
  • it can affect mothers who already have children before, not just first-time mothers or those who have had previous postpartum psychosis.

Finally, it is important to reiterate that in no case was there any doubt in the mother’s ability to safely care for and look after her baby.

As midwives and health visitors, we want to help to break down these barriers to accessing support and help. It is important to have open and honest conversations about the transition to parenthood, and how we can best support families.

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