Postpartum Psychosis: the ‘Silent’ Postpartum Disorder

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.

Sanne Thijssen: Overcoming Advocacy Burnout

In this episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast, Sanne Thijssen talks to Girls’ Globe founder Julia Wiklander about overcoming advocacy burnout, dealing with stress and finding balance in work and personal life. The Power of Your Story is a podcast produced in partnership with SayItForward.org – the platform where every woman & girl is encouraged to share her remarkable and unique story of overcoming the fears, personal beliefs, or circumstances that have held her back.


“This problem is bigger than me. If I can overcome this and help other people to overcome this, I will come out much stronger.” 

Sanne shares her experience of burnout and finding what she needs for self care. As a young women, early in her career, she was going at 110% and didn’t understand what was happening. It was a hit to her self-esteem, but still she shared her story and found the help she needed. Sanne talks about the power of stories and describes how sharing her own with others helped her move forward.

We can all relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed out. We are living in a world that constantly bombards us with information. It’s ever more difficult to navigate our own self care. Julia and Sanne talk about disconnecting from social media and filtering the input in their lives. Sanne shares how she has come to understand the stressors that led to her burnout. She also talks about the importance of authenticity in her life today.

“Stay grounded in your authenticity. Knowing what you stand for and why you stand for things is really important these days.”

Find all the episodes of The Power of Your Story here and in your favorite podcast apps. Sayitforward.org is full of inspirational stories from women and girls around the world. If you’d like to share your story too, you can do so today, in your own words, in any language.

The Cost of Sharing My Mental Health Story

Here at Girls’ Globe, we believe that storytelling is a way to bring about real change in the world. It’s something I believe in wholeheartedly. 

However, there is one issue in particular that I have written extensively about. I sometimes wonder if I should actually write about it. What are the real costs of doing so for me and the people in my life?

The issue is mental health.

The internet – social media in particular – has made talking about our mental health struggles easier and more accessible than ever before. Without leaving our homes, which we may be bound to due to anxiety or depression, we can share our experiences, read others’ stories, and connect with people who understand our struggles. We can feel, even if just a little, less alone.

Sharing publicy about issues that are still taboo and stigmatized in modern society can come with costs and consequences. Online trolls are always ready to dismiss or doubt our experiences, struggles and accounts of what has happened to us. 

Ever since I wrote my first post about my mental health on girlsglobe.org over two years ago, I’ve questioned my decision to be so open in such a public way about something I’ve hidden from others my whole life.

And then I wrote about it again – and then again and again and again. I wrote publicly, on the internet, for all to see. I also started sharing my mental health struggles on social media – sometimes just to my friends and at other times more widely.


Every time I press ‘send’, I feel a wave of anxiety but also a sense of relief.

On the one hand, writing publicly about my mental health struggles has been incredibly healing. It has helped me connect with others who are also struggling. I’ve received heart-warming comments from people thanking me for talking about something so stigmatized and telling me that my experience resonates with them.

On the other, writing about my struggles with anxiety and depression make me feel vulnerable and I fear people’s reaction. I fear what people who know me personally may think about me, since they’ll usually see me looking and acting so ‘well’ and ‘normal’.

I fear that sharing my personal stories of mental illness may harm my academic and work life, and even personal relationships.

What if a future date looks me up online, reads one of my mental health stories, and decides he doesn’t want to go out with me anymore? What are the costs of giving someone I’m still getting to know in person access to such a deep and intimate glimpse into my life online?

People have told me I’m brave and strong for being so honest and open about my mental health. This has been crucial to my healing. To talk about my anxiety and depression as something outside of myself has helped me realize that I’m more than my mental health issues (even though I still struggle to fully accept this).

But talking about it is still hard.

I still worry about how sharing my struggles may affect my life. Will it cost me friendships and romantic relationships? Will it cost me respect from colleagues and employers?

I don’t have a concrete answer, but I do know this: I want to live in a world where sharing our struggles about mental health or any other issue considered stigmatized will be accepted and respected. I want to be around people who accept vulnerability as a strength and not a weakness.

Most of all, I want to live what I say. And so, scared and all, I’ll keep sharing my story, because it’s one of the ways I’ve been healing. And maybe, reading my story may help someone in their healing journey. That makes all the costs feel worth it.

In an Age of Comparison, Busy does not Equal Productive

It seems that we have forgotten what it’s like to intentionally choose rest. When we do, we feel as though we are derailing our lives. It plagues us with guilt. I believe that this thinking is rooted in a culture of shame, pride and comparison.

How can shame and pride thrive simultaneously?

If you think about it, one cannot exist without the other. A culture of shame, lurking behind our obsession with productivity, is deeply embedded within society. And I would argue that it affects women more harshly.

One of the greatest threats to our peace of mind and ability to enjoy the present moment is the idea that busyness equates with productivity. We obsessively praise and admire what looks like productivity.

Instagram stories, facebook posts and twitter updates fuel the phenomenon. We see our friends’ elaborately organised desks and cups of coffee as we mindlessly scroll through our feeds, feeling guilty for not doing more ourselves. These constant comparisons and feelings of falling short pose a serious threat to our mental well-being.

When did our mental energy become less important than being recognized as worthy and successful by society?

Picture this: the ideal woman. She is able to multitask at all times, dedicates a perfect amount of time to each task, and always looks flawless. Effortlessly efficient in the workplace, she still makes it home in time to make dinner from scratch. She spends time with her family and gets the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

For real? These are impossible standards to live up to on a good day. More than anything, they set us up for burnout.

The dominant message is that it’s okay to compromise our health and wellness at the expense of appearing successful and gaining praise from others. We are expected to keep it together at every moment of every day, and to carry the emotions of our children and significant others while seamlessly managing our own. We should not express or even identify as feeling any anger or irritation. We are expected to love perfectly.

This is what is implicitly perpetuated by a culture obsessed with productivity and achievement. How busy we are has become an indication of our worthiness.

Busy does not equal productive. 

Breaking down, being vulnerable, admitting to sometimes not being able to handle everything: we view these as weaknesses. Can you see it now? Little old pride, rearing its head, spurred on by shame and ready to put up a fight.

It is time for this narrative to change. We need to make a conscious individual and collective effort to fight back against this mentality, especially at a time when mental illness is more prevalent than ever.

Periods of rest should not be scorned and embraced only once we are exhausted beyond recognition. Rest should be an intentional form of self-care to maintain good mental health, not a last-minute strategy to salvage what’s left.

Women Who Do Too Much

The exhausted woman is a cultural trope.

It’s a scene repeated in books, movies, our own lives: she arrives, apologetic, to a lunch appointment or meeting, straight after her last appointment or meeting.

Somehow, between mouthfuls of food, she remembers what’s been going on in your life, updates you on how she’s been juggling her career and her personal life and her family responsibilities, periodically checking her phone to answer an urgent text, share that contact you needed, forward that interesting article, and then rushes to leave on time for another appointment or meeting or to pick up the kids.

Even looking at the mythological modern woman is exhausting. Being her is next to impossible. A whole industry has been spun around the herculean task that is living up the feat that is being a successful modern woman.

Artist Emma Clit, who followed up her viral comic You Should Have Asked with The Consequences, used both to brilliantly highlight the multitudinous invisible burdens women carry with them every day. The psychological wear and tear is hard to see, but significant.

Women of all ages – from as young as adolescents – may recognize the heavy psychological effects that stem from the expectation that they can be everything to everyone.

So, what can we do about it? Recognize this in yourself? Want to know what to do next?

Don’t Feel Guilty

If you’ve taken pride in being there for the people around you, taking time for yourself – even when you desperately need it – can feel like self-absorption or failure. A helpful trick is to think of ourselves as our best friends: if they came to us, worn out and frazzled, we’d insist that they turn off their phone and think about taking care of themselves for at least an afternoon.

Running or Swimming or Yoga (or Something Else)

We’ve heard this ad nauseum, but it really does help. Any kind of exercise helps lower stress levels and does wonders for our health. We don’t have to run marathons or join dance classes (unless we want to!) Free youtube tutorials teaching you how to stretch or moonwalk or kickbox or anything that gets you breaking a sweat are just as good.

Schedule You Time

The way we’ve been told we need to make time for our jobs, our partners, our friends, is the same way we need to make time for ourselves. It is okay to say no to the party and stay in to rest if you need to (it really is). It is okay to tell your significant other you need some space to recharge.

Be Your Own Advocate

(Warning label: This can be the hardest one to do.) Learning to insist on helping and breaking patterns is a difficult thing to do, even when they’re patterns we don’t particularly enjoy, but it’s crucial to maintaining our mental health and the health of our relationships.

Further Reading on Girls’ Globe

BeMeBeFree: a Campaign to Tackle Teen Anxiety

To no one’s surprise, researchers found a 20% increase in diagnoses of anxietybetween 2007 and 2012. Now in 2018 the rate is even higher. There are a plethora of reasons for this. Many blame social media, while some blame a lack of parenting – the list goes on and on. There’s no shortage of people to blame.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 38% of teen girls and 26% of teen boys have anxiety disorders, yet data shows that 40% of students with mental health concerns never seek help.

There are a ton of statistics showing how badly anxiety is affecting our youth and how it’s reaching alarming rates, but what I don’t see a lot of is thorough examinations of the culture that young people live in today. There are many countries worldwide where doctors don’t have to medicate children as young as 8. There are numerous other countries where the suicide rate and incidents of eating disorders in young people haven’t reached epidemic proportions.

Why is this happening at this rate in America?

I created the BeMeBeFree Campaign to take a look at how anxiety affects our youth, but instead of hearing about it from academics, I wanted teens to share their story with us on our website www.bemebefree.org. Storytelling is a creative form that teens really gravitate to, so I decided to create a story sharing campaign where teens could share their story and encourage others to do the same.

Research has shown that if someone with anxiety writes about how they’re feeling and share it with others, it reduces their angst.

Carolyn Costin, a leading anxiety therapist working on the BeMeBeFree Campaign told me that “with little down time, less sleep and constant social media vigilance, our modern technology, cultural pressures and instant image access create an anxious suffering in our youth in ways that we are just beginning to fully understand.”

I’m reaching out to 20,000 high schools, 3,000 universities and 800 mental health organizations asking them to invite students to submit stories of how they’ve dealt with anxiety. We’ll be posting them on the story community page of our website so others can read them and hopefully become empowered to share their story. This will start the process of teens building a community and creating something that’s important to them – a sense of belonging to something.

Credit: Be Me Be Free

One of the unique things about this campaign is that Lifetime have agree to turn a story that we select from the submissions into a movie to air next year. During the process of making the movie I plan to implement various initiatives to keep engaging with our audience to keep the discussion going.

Shukree Tilghman, a writer/producer of the hit NBC show ‘This is Us’ has come aboard the BeMeBeFree Campaign/movie as an Executive Producer.

Ultimately, our campaign goal is to improve the culture of mental health in America and connect our youth. Submissions are open until 5 October 2018.