Written by Natascha Madden

Postpartum psychosis is a very serious, rare mental health condition that occurs in approximately 1 in 1000 women, most often appearing up to 6 weeks after giving birth. It can cause changes in one’s mood and behaviour. It is a condition that needs urgent medical and psychiatric attention. People who are most at risk of developing postpartum psychosis are those individuals who have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or have had a previous episode of postpartum psychosis.

How do postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression differ?

Postpartum depression is when a mother feels sad, hopeless or anxious following the birth of a baby for two weeks or more. You can read the article on postpartum depression to learn more about this condition by clicking here. With postpartum psychosis a person loses touch with reality and experiences delusions and/or hallucinations.

Symptoms & signs of postpartum psychosis

Following is a list of signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis. Each person’s experience is different, so if you are unable to relate to all of these symptoms, but can identify yourself in some of them, it’s important to chat with a medical professional about what is happening for you.

  • A loss of a sense of reality
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there, referred to as hallucinations
  • Feeling like others are against you, referred to as paranoia
  • Experiencing delusions, which are beliefs that are not attached to reality
  • Sudden and extreme mood swings
  • Being agitated
  • Becoming aggressive or violent in behaviour
  • Speaking in a way that doesn’t make sense
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulties sleeping, including being unable to sleep for a day or more
  • Thoughts about harming oneself or the baby
  • Behaving in an inappropriate way toward the baby

If you witness these changes in yourself or you witness them in someone you care about seek help from your doctor or emergency department at the hospital as soon as possible.

Treatment of postpartum psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is assessed and diagnosed by a psychiatrist, often once the person has been hospitalised. Treatment can include medications, psychological therapy and on occasions electroconvulsive therapy. Recovery can take anywhere from weeks to months depending on how the person responds to the treatment.

Partner, family & friends

If you suspect the person you care about may be unwell with a psychosis following the birth of a baby, you are encouraged to seek medical assistance with the person. If medical attention is not sought, both the mother and the baby may be at serious risk of harm. Likewise, this can be a scary time for you as the support person, so you may benefit at some stage from talking with a psychologist.

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