You’ve probably heard of the ‘baby blues’. You might know that some mothers can develop postpartum depression or anxiety. But you’ve probably not heard of a little-known and rare condition that occurs in 1 to 2% of births: postpartum psychosis.
In August 2018, singer and songwriter Adele brought attention to postpartum psychosis when she shared a photo with her friend, Laura Dockrill, who was diagnosed with the condition. Adele wrote:
“This is my best friend … She has written the most intimate, witty, heartbreaking and articulate piece about her experience of becoming a new mum and being diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. Mamas talk about how you’re feeling because in some cases it could save yours or someone else’s life.”
The piece is a powerful personal account of Laura’s experience with this debilitating postpartum disorder.
Although rare compared to postpartum depression or anxiety, postpartum psychosis is a recognized condition. It is included in the latest edition of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). It’s also included in the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Here, it is listed as a specifier – “with postpartum onset” – to the “brief psychotic disorder” diagnosis.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include rapid mood swings, hyperactivity, strange beliefs and delusion, hallucinations and paranoia. Although a rare temporary and treatable illness, it can be potentially dangerous and life-threatening.
Postpartum psychosis has a 5% rate of suicide and a 4% rate of infanticide.
The challenge with the condition, as with mental illness in general, is that there isn’t a single predictor of whether a mother will develop it. Risk factors include a history of bipolar disorder, previous psychotic episodes, obstetrical complications, sleep deprivation and lack of partner support. In Laura’s case, there was no history of mental illness or psychotic episodes. Treatment can include medications such as antidepressants and antipsychotics and psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).
Laura’s story exemplifies the silence surrounding postpartum psychosis. She said herself that she had never heard of postpartum psychosis until she experienced it firsthand.
Lack of awareness is particularly problematic as having social support can be crucial to a quick identification and treatment of the condition – and this can save lives.
Laura shared she was healing with the help and support of her family and psychiatrist, and through medication and psychotherapy. To other mothers struggling with postpartum psychosis and other postpartum mental health conditions, Laura said: “You don’t have to brave it alone. You don’t have to act like a hero, you already are one.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help immediately. In the United States, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text TWT to 741741. For a list of international suicide hotlines, visit www.buddy-project.org/hotlines.
Opinions and experiences published on girlsglobe.org are not medical advice. If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.