What is Postpartum Psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis is a rare condition which includes symptoms of racing thoughts, delusions, hallucinations, the sensation of things “crawling” under the skin, mood swings, paranoia, and confusion. It occurs shortly after giving birth, in the first two weeks postpartum.

psychosis

Credit to flickr.com user Engage Visually. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Psychosis affects approximately 1 to 2 mothers out of every 1,000 births in the U.S. The risks include previous history of psychosis and bipolar disorder, even though roughly half of the women who encounter it have no risk factors. According to Wikipedia, “25 to 50% of women with a history of mental illness experience postpartum psychosis; around 37% of women with bipolar disorder have a severe postpartum episode.” The risk of having a second psychotic episode is roughly 30%. The condition is not recognized in the DSM-5, but is used by doctors worldwide.

Unfortunately, there’s a 5% suicide rate and a 4% infanticide rate lumped together with psychosis. Each woman who undergoes postpartum psychoses breaks from reality. The delusions she endures are quite real to her. However, not all delusions and hallucinations tell the mother to commit harm to herself or an infant. Sufferers require immediate twenty-four hour monitoring and, in most cases, medication, to come out of the fugue.

During my episode, I was lucky enough to have a therapist who helped me commit myself to the University of Washington’s mental ward, which was the only available bed in the city at the time. Because I hadn’t slept in a week, the doctors there prescribed Olanzapine to knock me out for the first twenty-four hours, and then Depakote to help tame the postpartum mania.

I couldn’t sit still; I felt like I was going to burst right out of my skin from all my restless energy. The urge to nurse my newborn, Nolan, was intense. I tried to suffocate myself with wet towels when I found I couldn’t do it. I suffered a single hallucination in the showers: a voice roaring at me to stand up.

If you are suffering from postpartum psychosis or know someone who is, immediate treatment is essential to make a full recovery, which takes roughly six months to a year. The mood swings and delusions can last anywhere from two to twelve weeks. It is not your fault that this happened. You can recover from this.

Have you suffered from PPP or known anyone who has?

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About Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs at The Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. She is currently working on Committed, her forthcoming memoir detailing her time spent in a mental hospital while separated from her husband and newborn. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism, and is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.
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2 Responses to What is Postpartum Psychosis?

  1. dyane says:

    Excellent post, as always, Cass! I’m so sorry you didn’t sleep for an entire week, and that you had to be hospitalized, but I’m glad they had that bed and helped you get treatment!!!!

    I haven’t suffered from PPP, but I know of a U.K. organization that specializes in PPP education/advocacy and more. Action on Postpartum Psychosis has some of the most renowned psychiatrists & researchers in the world affiliated with their work. They also have an online forum for moms. Here’s the website:

    http://www.app-network.org

    They’re very active on Twitter too.
    @ActionOnPP

    Once again, great job!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Dyane, and thanks especially for sharing that useful link! I appreciate it.

      Going through psychosis was a series of defining moments in my life. I was lucky to get treatment when I did–and that it worked, and that we could afford it. I’m lucky to be alive, and even more lucky to be stable.

      Thanks again for sharing the link! I’ll check them out right away.

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