With the recent uptake in interest surrounding mental health and well-being, many people are now aware of how postnatal depression can affect new parents. Midwives are ready to spot any signs that develop in new mothers. However, postpartum psychosis is rarely spoken about and is a serious medical condition. Although the condition is rare, affecting between 1 and 2 in every thousand women, it’s still important to recognise the signs and symptoms.
"It was a relief when she was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis and given the treatment that saved her. We both want to have another baby, and are scared the illness will return. But this time, at least we’ll be prepared."
Dan, Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency (Channel 4)
Some viewers may have been distressed by the story told in the programme, but it’s important to remember that postpartum psychosis is a rare condition that can be treated with professional help.
Some women develop postpartum psychosis even if they have never had a mental health problem before, sometimes you can become very unwell, very quickly. If you suspect that you (or someone you know) may have postpartum psychosis, contact your GP/Midwife/Health Visitor (or your mental healthcare team) and ask to be seen the same day, or go immediately to A&E.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis
- being severely depressed and/or being manic – extremely energetic and talkative
- quick changes of mood (up and down)
- being restless and agitated
- being very withdrawn and not talking to anyone
- being very confused
- not sleeping
- racing thoughts
- hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
- developing unusual beliefs (delusions)
- feeling things aren’t real (like you’re in a dream world)
- feeling paranoid and suspicious of other people
- behaviour that is out of character
- feeling suicidal
- thinking about, and/or planning suicide, and sometimes thinking of taking your baby with you because of bad feelings about the world around you.
If you have postpartum psychosis you may not have all these symptoms and they may change.
Many women with bipolar disorder have healthy pregnancies and babies, but around 1 in 5 women develop a severe case of postpartum psychosis quickly in the first few weeks after having a baby.
If you have bipolar disorder it’s best to talk to your doctor and psychiatrist (if you have one) before you become pregnant, to make sure you have the appropriate medication for you and your baby. If you have found out you are pregnant, tell your doctor and midwife as soon as possible. You should be referred to a specialist mental health midwife service or to the community mental health service.
It’s very important that you don’t stop taking medication for mental health problems before talking to your doctor. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms and could also make your symptoms return or get worse.
Find out more about bipolar disorder and pregnancy.
Our midwife says:
"Whether you are pregnant or have had your baby, it is so important to talk to your midwife or GP about how you are feeling and if you notice any changes in mood or emotions. Most postpartum psychosis sufferers do not recognise that they’re unwell and because the illness is often unpredictable it can also be difficult for partners, family and friends to recognise. If you have any worries or doubts about you or your partner’s mental health, then it’s important to seek help and talk to health professionals as soon as possible."
You can see the documentary on 4OD or read more about it in this BBC article.