Postpartum psychosis refers, most simply, to psychosis brought on by having a baby. Postpartum psychosis is not the same thing as postpartum depression, although some women who experience one will experience the other. Postpartum psychosis is much less common than postpartum depression, and affects around one to two women for every thousand women that give birth.
The symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:
– Racing, illogical or random thoughts
– Thoughts of suicide or of harming others
– Extreme mania
– Hearing voices or noises
– A refusal to eat
– A high level of anxiety and/or irritability.
Around 1 in 20 women who experience postpartum psychosis commit suicide. Almost the same amount ultimately commit infanticide, or try to harm their baby in some other way.
Research has not conclusively determined what exactly will cause postpartum psychosis. Some studies suggest that the rapidly changing hormone levels in a woman’s body during and after pregnancy may be responsible. Others suggest that a lack of emotional and/or social support may contribute to the risk of postpartum psychosis. Financial problems or other major life changes that are known to cause stress, such as starting a new job, getting married, or moving may also contribute. In reality, all or none of these factors might be present in any given woman who experiences post partum psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis, when detected, can be treated. Antipsychotic drugs such as Haldol, Clozaril, Risperidal, and Zyprexa seem to be among the most effective. These medications do pass through breast milk, so it is important that a mother who is taking them stop breastfeeding immediately. In some circumstances, psychological counseling or group therapy may be used along with these medications to help a woman cope with the symptoms of postpartum psychosis. Many women who experience postpartum psychosis, like people who experience other forms of psychosis, will refuse treatment. In these circumstances, friends and family members have often chosen to pursue more extreme measures, such as temporary institutionalization, to help address the problem.
Postpartum psychosis can be extremely dangerous. If you or someone you know may be suffering from postpartum psychosis, you should contact your health care provider or mental health practitioner immediately.