PARENTS
14/08/2018 15:15 BST | Updated 15/08/2018 08:49 BST

Adele On Friend's 'Heartbreaking' Postpartum Psychosis: Symptoms And Treatment Explained

Adele said mums speaking out about their experience could save lives.

Adele has praised her best friend for revealing her “intimate, witty, heartbreaking and articulate” story about having postpartum psychosis six months after giving birth to her son who is the singer’s godson.

Laura Dockrill, who has been a friend of Adele’s since they were teenagers, wrote a piece about her experience of the serious mental illness that she says was “hell, it’s been the worst time of my life.”

A post shared by Adele (@adele) on

“This is my best friend,” Adele wrote in an Instagram post. “We have been friends for more of our lives than we haven’t.

“She had my beautiful godson 6 months ago and it was the biggest challenge of her life in more ways than one. She has written the most intimate, witty, heartbreaking and articulate piece about her experience of becoming a new mum and being diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.

“Mamas talk about how you’re feeling because in some cases it could save yours or someone else’s life x.”

Dockrill has since told Radio 1 Newsbeat that it was Adele who first spotted her symptoms: “She recognised it in me, I was on the phone FaceTiming her and she was the first one to detect what I might have.”

Postpartum psychosis is a severe form of mental illness experienced by women after having a baby. It is very rare, affecting only about 1 in every 1000 women who have a baby. It usually begins suddenly in the days following birth.

“Some women, unfortunately, can have a difficult labour with a long and painful delivery, an unplanned caesarean section or emergency treatment,” says NCT head of campaigns and communications Abigail Wood.

“As a result, they may suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you or your partner are suffering from trauma following childbirth - symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety and avoiding things which remind you of what happened -  it’s important to seek help.” 

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is a “psychiatric emergency” according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP). Symptoms can vary and can change rapidly.

In very rare cases, women suffering from postpartum psychosis have been known to take their own lives or harm or kill their child.

“The earliest symptoms often include feeling high, not sleeping, feeling spiritual, talking more than usual or seeming confused,” says Wood from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).

She says other symptoms include: 

  • Mania: feeling over-excited, elated or ‘high,’ active, energetic, not needing to sleep, feeling agitated, restless, and irritable, with a busy mind or racing thoughts.
  • Depressed or low mood or alternating rapidly between mood states.
  • Hallucinations – hearing voices, seeing things or smelling smells that other people cannot perceive.
  • Delusions – false beliefs that are firmly held, sometimes related to the baby, such as it is ‘sent from God’, or is ‘evil’ in some way.
  • Delusions, such as that the mother has won the Lottery, that the TV or radio are referring to her, or that she has special healing powers, are not uncommon.
  • Confusion, rapid or muddled thinking.
  • A lack of insight - a woman experiencing this condition may be unaware that her behaviour is odd in any way. Very often it will be other people who notice that she is behaving oddly and is not well.
  • Delusions can frequently be paranoid in nature. Mums may believe that everyone (especially hospital staff and/or loved ones) is trying to harm her and/or her baby.

Postpartum psychosis is different from postnatal depression (for which you should also seek treatment) and the ‘baby blues’, according to the RCP.

It says ‘baby blues’ are mild mood changes after having a baby, which are common to many women, including mood swings, tears and feeling irritable or anxious. These symptoms usually stop by the time a baby is around 10 days old and do not need treatment.

Postnatal depression affects 10 to 15% of women after childbirth and symptoms include low mood and other symptoms of depression, lasting at least two weeks.

Causes

Postpartum psychosis is not your fault, says the Royal College of Psychiatrists. “It is not caused by anything you or your partner have thought or done. Relationship problems, stress or the baby being unwanted do not cause postpartum psychosis.”

“There is little mothers can do to avoid it – the evidence suggests that it does not depend on social or emotional causes,” says Wood from the NCT.

About half of cases of happen ‘out of the blue’ to women without any previous personal or family history of psychiatric illness, Wood says.

“However, anyone who has previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder has an increased risk of developing postpartum psychosis, and should seek referral to a specialist perinatal psychiatrist during pregnancy,” she adds.

More research is needed to determine the causes, but you are more likely to have postpartum psychosis if a close relative has had it.

Treatment

If you suspect close to you is experiencing postpartum psychosis, it’s important they are urgently seen by a specialist perinatal psychiatrist. This can normally be arranged by a GP, midwife, health visitor, or other health professional.

“Women suffering from postpartum psychosis will need help to look after their baby until they recover,” says Wood. “Recognising the symptoms early can make a huge difference, so treatment can start as quickly as possible and mother and baby cared for appropriately.”

The most common treatment for postpartum psychosis is anti-psychotic medication and drugs that are used to treat bipolar disorder, the RCP says.

Most women with postpartum psychosis are treated in hospital, ideally in a specialist Mother and Baby unit. “The most severe symptoms tend to last two to 12 weeks and mothers will usually remain in hospital throughout that time,” says the RCP.

The vast majority of women will recover fully, but postpartum psychosis can often be followed by a period of depression, anxiety, and low confidence.

“Returning home after treatment can be daunting and it is important that full support is given to women, both emotionally and practically, from their partner, family and friends.