THE BLOG

Postpartum Psychosis: The Mental Illness You've Never Heard Of

30/07/2015 11:08 BST | Updated 27/07/2016 10:59 BST

Coming from a family with seven siblings, birthdays can often be pretty manic in the family home. Whether we're trying to find the appropriate dry ice machine for my sister's Frozen-style party or desperately trying to guess what my brother's latest fad is, it can be pretty chaotic. But, among the anarchy, birthdays are an incredibly special time for my own Mum and Dad, who after trying to have children for 15 years through IVF, often reminisce on their experience in being new parents. The excitement, the terror, and the briefings on everything from meningitis to measles, it's enough to make anyone panic.

That's why when I recently caught up with a good friend who told me about Postpartum Psychosis, or PP for short, I was pretty shocked & embarrassed that I had no idea what she was talking about. PP is a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. It affects three families every day in the UK and can cause high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions.

It struck a chord with my own Mum. Giving birth and starting a family should be a euphoric and joyful experience for any family, but the lack of awareness and stigma around this mental illness often means that PP comes as an unexpected shock to those families who are affected, but can often be hard to describe to outsiders.

That's where networks such as Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) come in. Recently nominated for a National Lottery Award, APP is a charitable organisation which has supported over 700 families via their forum and social media. Set up over 10 years ago, it's a collaborative project run by women who have experienced PP, specialist health professionals and academic experts. It's providing a space for women and their partners to discuss what they're going through without fear or judgement, as well as reliable information about the condition.

Therefore in the interest of raising awareness of this relatively unknown mental illness, and to celebrate APP's National Lottery Award nomination, here are 5 things you should know about Postpartum Psychosis:

PP can happen to any Mum

PP isn't caused by anything parents have thought or done and there are likely to be many factors that lead to an episode of Postpartum Psychosis. Genetic factors are particularly important and you're more likely to have Postpartum Psychosis if a close relative has had it.

The symptoms are varied and can change quickly

Symptoms of PP are varied and can change quickly. Feeling 'high', 'manic' or 'on top of the world', low mood and tearfulness, and anxiety or irritability are all pretty common. Most commonly these episodes begin in the first two weeks after birth and often symptoms begin in the first few days after having a baby - inability to sleep, racing thoughts, and overactivity being common.

Every reaction can be different

PP doesn't discriminate with stories of small business owners in London, graphic designers, and even GPs contracting the mental illness. Stories of mothers believing that they or their baby are famous, believing that things on the TV or radio are about themselves, and heightened religious feelings even if not previously religious, have been well documented.

It can take up to 6 - 12 months to fully recover

It can take 6 -12 months or more to recover from postpartum psychosis. The most severe symptoms tend to last 2 to 12 weeks and luckily, the vast majority of women will recover fully. For many Mums who recover from PP, their often followed by a period of depression, anxiety, and low social confidence, which can last up to two years.

The APP Forum can provide support and advice

APP supports hundreds of women everyday through their forum. If you think your partner, friend or family member might be suffering with PP - you can ask questions, share your experiences & find out more about PP.

You can vote for APP for the National Lottery awards today. The deadline is the 29th July.