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.

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?