Puerperal Psychosis & related illnesses

Puerperal Psychosis

Background

Puerperal psychosis is also called post partum psychosis or post natal psychosis: the three are the same condition. It's a rare condition occurring, depending where you read, between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 500 mothers. Whilst that's rare, it's not uncommon.

It's a terrifying condition - the name doesn't help - not just for the person suffering, but for their partner, who will certainly feel that he's got no control over the situation. Little comfort, then, when they realise they don't.

Having a psychosis does not mean you're nuts. Psychosis is simply a medical term, which means, according to the dictionary:

"any severe mental disorder in which contact with reality is lost or highly distorted"
Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

Films like Psycho and phrases like "she's a psycho" mean completely different things and are not related to this condition.

A section of this website is called "My story", which contains a history of what my experiences were in dealing with this condition. You may find it helpful.

Common symptoms

Each case is unique, but the two most common symptoms are:

In addition, sufferers may experience:

If you are, or know someone who is suffering these symptoms, get medical help from your GP, Midwife or Health Visitor NOW.

A common delusion is the belief that the new baby is evil - that they're the devil. Sufferers have been known to hear voices telling them to kill the baby. This is not the only delusion: people suffering can believe anything absolutely and wholeheartedly. This condition is that powerful, and the experiences of the people suffering it are real, at least to them.

Getting help

If you think you're suffering

If you're reading this and thinking "that's me", go and see your doctor. They are likely to refer you to a psychiatric team who will come and visit you and assess you. Place your trust in these professionals: they are able to help and this is a treatable condition.

Will they take my baby away?

They will not take your baby away. In fact, they try and do the opposite and keep you with the baby, even if it means going to a mother and baby unit. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor: they will tell you the truth.

If you think you know someone who's suffering

Don't sit back. Some women are unable to recognise what they're feeling is not real, so if she won't get help, you must. Telephone the health visitor - the number's in the red book you should have been given. If it's not, call the surgery and discuss your concerns with any available doctor, health visitor or midwife.

Don't think you're alone. You're not - help can be arranged for you, with regard to both childcare and counselling. And you can always talk about it on this site's forum anonymously if you wish.

What stance should I take?

I was recommended to take a stance whereby I agreed with my wife that her experiences were real, but in no way reinforced them. Then, as treatment progressed, to change the stance carefully to dispel the beliefs whilst acknowledging the experiences were real for her.

Please note, though, that that was for my case. If any professional tells you differently, go with their recommendations.

Treatment

Contrary to popular opinion, treatment does not have to involve going to hospital if the patient or their partner is able to look after the child and the patient is willing to be treated. Sadly this is not always the case, and hospitalisation is common for assessment and early treatment purposes.

The condition is treatable by drugs called anti-psychotics like Olanzapine, Aripiprazole (Abilify) and Amisulpride. These work by lowering the activity of the brain in the areas where it's been heightened, silencing the voices and dispelling the beliefs. It can take time to find the right anti-psychotic and the right dose because each patient is different.

Much more detail is in the drugs section.

Finally, counselling can help to drill down to the roots of any false beliefs. Ask about it and if it's offered, take it.