Postpartum Psychosis: A Dad's Story

Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis
Less talked-about, equally critical

A story to run on Australian TV this weekend highlights a rare but devastating condition that affects some moms after birth. Postpartum psychosis is thankfully less common than depression, but the stakes tend to be higher.

The father profiled is Craig, whose partner Emily was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis shortly after their son was born. She had a normal pregnancy and delivery, but after they got home from the hospital, she started seeing “auras” and believing that her breast milk could save the world.

After that, she sank into a deep sadness and became disconnected from everyone, including her family. One day Craig came home and found she had killed herself.  

He tells ABC News that she had lost all interest in life. He felt alone and had no idea how to help her — now he’s throwing his support behind mental health networks that provide treatment for women who suffer from postpartum psychosis and also teach families the skills they need to cope.

Postpartum psychosis is relatively rare: studies pin it as affecting around 1.2 women in 1,000. It’s much more likely to hit early (within the first three months postpartum), and to affect women who have had a history of bipolar disorder or severe mood symptoms that might have landed them in the hospital pre-baby.

But the risks are really high with postpartum psychosis. When I work with psychiatrists who specialize in women’s health, they tell me that while postpartum depression support happens outpatient (usually), with therapy, sometimes medication, and always family support, postpartum psychosis should be an immediate hospitalization.

This was the tragedy with Andrea Yates, the woman who drowned her multiple children in the bathtub in 2001. She was originally diagnosed with postpartum depression, but after being arrested and hospitalized, she clearly was much more ill — having delusions and hallucinations that satan was speaking to her.

Postpartum psychosis, as well as postpartum OCD don’t get as much attention as depression, but they are serious conditions that affect a significant number of moms.

Do you know someone, or have you yourself had experience with any of these 3 diagnoses?

Image: flickr/theogeo

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