These are the kind of posts we don’t like to write. But they are also the posts we must write because these situations carry the most potential for stigma and misunderstanding as they relate to the Perinatal Mood & Anxiety realm.
A recent situation in Cincinnati is the reason for this post. I won’t link for safety reasons, and if you are fragile, I would recommend you NOT Google for the story. (If, however, you do, and you need someone to talk to about it during the day, find me on Twitter here: @unxpctdblessing. I will be happy to chat with you.)
Media sensationalism along with misunderstanding by society at large can turn a singular incident into a large scale stigma fest. THIS is why we write posts like this. To educate and prevent misunderstandings in the future. It is a delicate balance to write these posts without triggering our audience, hence the emergency stop picture. While I have tried to keep this post as non-triggering as possible, again, if you are fragile, you may want to skip this post.
When a mother with Postpartum Psychosis follows through with behavior which is limited to a very small percentage of mothers who do experience psychosis, it is splashed across the front pages and often combined with the term “postpartum depression” or “baby blues,” leading readers to believe a depressed mother is capable of this act.
Let’s get a few things straight here.
Postpartum Psychosis only occurs in 1-2 of every 1000 births, or .1% of births.
Of those .1%, only 4% may commit infanticide, and 5% may commit suicide.
Postpartum Psychosis is NOT Postpartum Depression.
Postpartum Psychosis is defined by hallucinations, delusions, rapid mood swings, decreased sleep, and increased paranoia.
Postpartum Depression is defined by increased sadness, irritability, increased sleep, feelings of guilt, and loss of interest in usual things. It also carries the risk of thoughts of harming your child or yourself, but mothers with Postpartum Depression are highly unlikely to follow through.
Baby Blues is experienced by up to 80% of all new mothers and is NOT a disorder found on the Perinatal Mood & Anxiety spectrum.
It’s important to note here that I know more than a few mothers who have successfully fought back against psychosis and won. They (and their children) are still with us. Psychosis also does not always equal the death of a mother or a child. It is, however, the one disorder on the spectrum which carries the highest risk for loss of life.
I want to add that Postpartum OCD is the other disorder on the spectrum closest to the signs and symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis. How do you tell the two apart? OCD moms are typically disgusted by the thoughts which flit through their heads while moms with Psychosis believe the thoughts they are experiencing, no matter how delusional, are real and rational. They are driven to follow through with them, while moms with OCD fight against them and do everything to make them go away. Am I saying moms with Psychosis WANT to follow through with their delusions? No. I’m saying that because of the nature of the disorder, they are unable to fight back without help.
It is also important to know that many survivors of postpartum psychosis never had delusions containing violent commands. Delusions take many forms, and not all of them are destructive. Most women who experience postpartum psychosis do not harm themselves or anyone else. However, there is always the risk of danger because psychosis includes delusional thinking and irrational judgment, and this is why women with this illness must be treated and carefully monitored by a trained healthcare professional.
So what should you do if you or a mother you know and love shows signs and symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis?
She should immediately be seen by a physician. She should not be left by herself, or alone with her infant at any time. It is possible she may need to be hospitalized for a short (or longer) time until she begins to respond to any prescription medications to balance her psychosis. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and mothers often fall through the cracks. Compliance with medications outside of the hospital setting (which is the alleged case in Cincinnati), is something no one can monitor. What we can do, however, is continue to educate the population at large about the signs and symptoms, encourage them to not leave the mother alone, and encourage compliance with any treatments set forth by a medical professional.
Healing from a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder is not a solo journey, nor is it an easy journey. We need a village to wrap their arms around us as we learn how to walk again. Be a part of that village. Please.
Here are some resources to get you started:
Know that above all, you are not alone and you will get through this.