Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is a rare category of mental disorders that can affect women who have recently given birth. This disorder involves psychotic symptoms that can manifest in several different ways, such as hallucinations, hearing voices, delusions, and violence.

Although often thought to be a form of postpartum depression, it is actually a severe condition that closely resembles manic depressive disorder, or bi-polar disorder. 

Researchers are unsure as to its cause, although it seem to be more common in first-time mothers. Suspected contributors include genetic predisposition (such as a family history of postpartum psychosis or bi-polar disorder), hormonal sensitivity, and personal life issues, such as marital discord or being without a partner.

Symptoms

The symptoms of this disorder can vary, but there are a few manifestations that seem fairly constant with this illness. Some women experience a broad spectrum of emotions ranging from increased activity and sociability to introversion and adoption of a trance-like state. Other symptoms include:

  • euphoria
  • hallucinations
  • decreased need for sleep
  • absentmindedness
  • erratic speech or inability to communicate effectively
  • excitability

Others may take on a depressive state where speech failure, delusions, verbal hallucinations, and stupor may occur. Some women switch between the two extremes in what appears as a dramatic and quick mood change from happy to depressed or sociable to reclusive.

Treatment

This is a serious but temporary illness and a course of treatment should be pursued as soon as possible. In severe cases, failure to treat this condition can lead to self harm or the harm of others, as demonstrated in the media-popularized cases of Melanie Blocker-Stokes and Andrea Yates. Modern therapy and medication are the standard treatments and can usually produce an improvement within a few weeks.

In cases where severe over-activity or delusional behavior takes place, it may be necessary to use a tranquilizer in order to subdue the individual. Mood stabilizer drugs may also be recommended for women who have already suffered from serious episodes. Studies show that women who have suffered psychotic episodes in the past are more likely to experience a relapse in episodes. Mood stabilizers attempt to prevent this relapse from occurring.

Getting Help

It is not uncommon for women to avoid seeking help for this condition out of fear that they may lose their children or be institutionalized. In truth, stepping forward and asking for help shows great strength and character on the mother’s part. In the majority of cases, postpartum psychosis is not as extreme as the media has portrayed it to be - although there are those few cases that make the exception. 

Any woman who believes that she may be suffering from postpartum psychosis should speak to her doctor about the symptoms she is experiencing, how often they occur, and when they first began. The doctor will be able to recommend a specialist or group that can offer her the guidance and support that she needs to overcome this temporary but difficult condition. 


Return from Postpartum Psychosis to Postpartum Living

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