Postpartum Psychosis Symptoms (in Plain Mama English)

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postpartum depression

Following is a list of symptoms for women with postpartum psychosis or postpartum depression with psychotic features, written in plain Mama English. I’m pretty sure you’ve never seen such a comprehensive list of postpartum psychosis symptoms described in this way. I’m hoping it will be useful for women who are suffering who have insight, and for those who don’t but whose family members or friends can read this and recognize these symptoms in their loved ones. Since I haven’t been through a psychotic episode myself, I reached out to some smart and brave survivors to help me. I am sincerely indebted to Heather, Teresa Twomey, author of “Understanding Postpartum Psychosis: A Temporary Madness“, Jeremy and HK.

The Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis & Postpartum Depression with Psychotic Features (In Plain Mama English)

What does it feel like to have postpartum psychosis? What are the symptoms? How do you know when you have it?

Below I will share the signs of these illnesses in “plain mama English”. We won’t use words like hypomania or delusions or psychomotor agitation. Instead, we will use the words we hear in our heads when we think about what the hell is happening to us …

When you read the list below, keep in mind you may not be experiencing all of the symptoms below or even most of them. These are not “one-size-fits-all” illnesses. Your experience may be focused on just a few of the following symptoms and you may not have others at all. Also, as with any postpartum illness, this can occur after childbirth, miscarriage or other perinatal loss.

You may have postpartum psychosis or postpartum depression with psychotic features if you have had a baby within the last 12 months and are experiencing some of these symptoms:

  • You have more energy than you’ve ever had in your life. This is like nothing you’ve ever experienced, and you just had a baby! You feel great. You may even feel like you don’t need sleep because there are things that must get done. Conversely, you are exhausted, have no energy, and wish you could sleep but your mind just refuses to shut down.
  • You feel like suddenly you understand EVERYTHING, like your brain is functioning on a new and different level. You are able to make connections you’ve never noticed before between people, places and things. Everything in your whole life makes sense to you now.
  • You keep hearing and/or seeing things that no one else does or that you know are not there. You may have what seem like voices in your head that won’t stop no matter what you do. The voices comment about your actions or tell you appalling things, even that you may need to hurt someone or do something you would never do otherwise. Perhaps you feel the radio, television, nature or God is speaking directly to you and you alone or giving you secret messages.
  • You believe that you can’t trust people or have become suspicious of your family and friends — people you always trusted prior to this. You may even feel like your family, friends, healthcare providers or the government are out to get you. You may feel they are trying to get rid of you or stop you from doing what needs to be done. You also may feel that people (family, friends, strangers or outside forces) are going to purposely or accidentally harm you or your child.
  • You believe you are suddenly unique and special in some way, have some greater purpose, mission, powers or have been possessed (however, you don’t want to talk about it to anyone because you know, for whatever reason, they won’t understand). Or you feel these same things are true of your baby.
  • You cannot remember how to do things you knew how to do in the past — like how to make a batch of cookies, read a map, program your phone or find the doctor’s office. You may also have trouble focusing, like reading or doing math or following a plot on TV.
  • You feel like you are losing track of time. Or time seems either very sped up or extremely slowed down.
  • You may be having strange sensations, for example feeling like things are crawling on you.
  • You are getting into conflict with those around you. Although there may be real issues between you and others, the fact is that you are getting into way more conflicts with others than you ever used to.
  • People who care about you think there is something wrong with you or say that you are angry, sad, acting strange and/or weird. In any case, they note that you are different from how you used to be.
  • You may feel as if you are being controlled by some outside force. This force may be telling you to harm someone. Or you may have strange violent urges that have nothing to do with choice. These urges can best be understood if you think of how it feels when you experience the urge to urinate. One has little control over whether one wants to urinate or not, it is just a powerful urge one is compelled to tend to. These strange violent thoughts may present themselves as possible solutions to a myriad of problems.
  • You don’t like what is happening to you and are frightened to death. You know that something is terribly wrong and you don’t understand it. You think you’ve gone “crazy”.
  • You are afraid you will never get better. You may even believe that the only way to get out of this or to protect the ones you love is to commit suicide or abandon your family.

Though you might fear that you will be locked up forever if you were to ever reveal what is happening to you, you can get better with professional help. There are countless women who have had postpartum psychosis and recovered 100%.

The key is getting urgent help for how you are feeling before you lose all insight into the fact that you are ill, which is what happens with this illness. Get yourself (or anyone you suspect of suffering from this) to an emergency room immediately and be open about being homicidal, suicidal, hearing or seeing things, and describing any other concerns or symptoms you have.  You can even print out this symptom list, bring it with you, and share with them the items on it that you are experiencing.

If you suspect that you or someone you love has postpartum psychosis, you/she should be accompanied at all times until a professional diagnosis is received and you/she are under the 24/7 care of a healthcare provider.

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  20. Um, who the f*$’k gave you insight on this?? This is the worst article I’ve ever read on postpartum psychosis.
    “You have more energy than you’ve ever had in your life. This is like nothing you’ve ever experienced, and you just had a baby! You feel great. ”
    Uh NO YOU DON’T! you feel like complete shit, it’s quite the opposite,you can’t think you can’t function.
    did you suffer from this personally?? I think you need to do more research. You’ve given completely wrong info on this topic.
    “you feel like you suddenly understand everything”
    Again WRONG!! you feel so lost confused and hopeless, wanting nothing to do with your baby, can’t eat can’t sleep, you feel absolutely terrified! I’ve experienced true postpartum psychosis, you my dear, have no idea what you are taking about! Lmao, feel unique and special?! I’m getting angrier at this bs. Noooooo. You don’t feel special you feel far from it! The exact opposite. You think women have committed suicide on postpartum psychosis by feeling” extra special ” or” feeling great” please please do more research, this is crap! Coming from someone who has actually experienced this disorder, take my advice and DO NOT advise people on stuff you clearly know Nothing about! Just cuz you read a book on the topic does not make you anything close to an “expert” there’s a difference between postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression, look it up! What you describe is not psychosis, you only hit on a few marks, but this is by far the worst article!
    For those of you who need correct info here is a great link http://www.womensmentalhealth.org/specialty-clinics/postpartum-psychiatric-disorders/

    • I’m sorry that you feel that way Drea. This information did not come out of a book — it was compiled by a group of survivors of postpartum psychosis. To be clear, we did not say that you would experience all of these things, but that you may experience some or all. We’ve heard from many women who’ve been through psychosis that feel this is an accurate and helpful list of symptoms. If you experienced something different, we welcome you sharing it with us. And thanks for sharing the link to the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health Program – we are big fans of theirs as they are of us.

      ~ K

    • Have you ever thought that maybe it’s different for everyone? When I had it with my son I wasn’t distant from him; I was everything but! I wouldn’t even sleep hardly because I thought he was going to die in his sleep so I’d stay up all night and watch him. My entire world revolved around him and I was afraid that everything would hurt him. I even thought my neighbor wanted to kill me and take him from me, and I thought she was always watching me, waiting for me to leave the house to check the mail so she could go in and take him. I locked my door and took my house key with me to check it instead. And I thought the govt was going to kill us in the hospital and I freaked when they gave him his vaccines. And just because youbhave it doesnt give you an excuse to be a complete crotch to people. Get a life and get over yourself. I hate it when people act out like that for attention. At the beginning of this article she says she got her info from people who have had it themselves. I didn’t experience any of the crap you listed. So does that mean you’re a liar? Think about it, idiot.

    • Actually everybody’s symptoms are different so just because you did not feel any of the listed does not mean they are not valid. I had postpartum psychoses and I did feel super great and high and mighty and almost like I’m high.. It’s strange up and downs almost like bipolar. I went to a naturopath doctor got lots of vitamins and mushroom powder as well as Lenores.. Thank God I am all better.

  21. It took me 4 years to realize I had this illness and I was fighting for my life. I don’t ever wish this upon anyone, it is a horrible disease and I was suffering through all these symptoms severely but I am a survivor I talked to my psychiatrist and got the right medication, I am no longer suffering from this disease. now I’ve been off my medicine for the past 5 months having complete peace and no symptoms so I’m hoping it was temporary:) Thank Jehovah God:) I am finally happy, I am praying and hoping all u mothers find the same help immediately! Be strong you will beat this horrific disease.

  22. Thanks for this “real words” explanation. After the birth of my first son, when he was about 3 months old I started experiencing many of these symptoms. With the help of a very caring and loving mother and a wonderful primary care doctor who knew I needed help immediately but didn’t want to see me hospitalized due to the risk of making the long term recovery on me worse got me to the right team of doctors. It was a long and very mentally draining recovery. The worse part was the publics lack of knowledge. The part where people thought I was crazy was the hardest part of my recovery. I had to find it within myself not to let the publics lack of knowledge destroy me. I then made a pledge to myself that I would not hide my illness. I would talk about it, Explain I did nothing wrong, educate them on the illness and recovery. I still find there is not a lot of resources for the public to educate them on this mental illness and I find women fighting this afraid to get help because of this. I can say I made a 100% recovery though after this I now have anxiety I never experienced before that I handle with medication and my primary care doctor. I can say I never wanted another child because I was so scared I might go through that horrible dark time again. I am proud to say I now have a second child with no occurrence of postpartum psychosis. I did fight depression through my pregnancy and with guidance from my doctor I took anti-depression meds for a couple months during pregnancy and then started preventive treatment immediately after birth. There is hope out there. I am proof. I am proud to say I meet my best friend because of this illness. She was a new mom to her second child and experiencing symptoms that her family just wasn’t understanding. She walked into my office (a complete stranger at that time) and broke down to me. I explained to her what was happening, took the rest of the day off of work to help her with her daughter who had colic and helped her find treatment and answers. I believe daily god gave me that experience to help other women and share my story. Just remember there is hope and I wish all the time there was a way to educate all of the public about this disorder. Thanks for all your website does.

  23. Also @ drea I experienced the first two symptoms before mine got to the point where I started experiencing the voices, urges and many other things on this list. In a weeks time i remodeled a bathroom by myself and laid tile floors in my kitchen and bathroom and handy women is something I am not (so much so my brothers took off work when they realized what I was doing just hoping they could try to help me so I would relax (I also had a c-section and this was only 10-12 weeks after my c-section) so I believe this is a very accurate article “in real word terms”

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  30. Everything you said is true. Both my daughters have had this; one is still on medicine, not recovered. My other daughter is in a serious condition, children taken away, it’s so sad and I can’t reach her. She is experiencing everything you have said and has been in the hospital psyche
    ward twice. It runs on my moher’s side and many of my female relatives have had it. I can’t seem to get some doctors to understand or believe me. My older daughter is still on anti-psychotic medicine and lithium. This is the best she has been in almost three years. Her child is going to be three. They didn’t know what to do with my older female relatives in generations before but put them in state institutions or electric shock their brains (it’s horrible). People who have never experienced in their family units don’t believe its true; they are idiots in my opinion. I have experienced so much emotional pain watching my two daughters lose their children and no one to help. The system is a mess; they don’t know how to handle it. If you have lots of money you can catch it early, and help your loved one but if not, and it goes into psychosis, like me daughters, you stand by and watch the insanity and your loved ones go down the tubes and lose everything. It’s almost like being on meth; that is the symptoms. Anyway, I just felt like writing, as I deal with saddens alot regarding this and I can’t convince my younger 30 yr old daughter that she needs medicine of counsel/help. The man she was with wouldn’t let me help her and by the time, I was finally able to get her to listen, it was too late. if she doesn’t get well, they will never give her babies back (and this saddens me deeply). She cries, goes into rages, along with all the above, and I never know where she is anymore. She is like bi-polar. Anyway, I’m going to read some of your other articles and see if I can print them out or get this daughter to read this stuff, when I see her again. As she believes the voices in her head and the delusions and we can’t convince her otherwise.Everytime I get a call or see her she is crying or raging. Anyway, thanks for listening.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that your family has gone through this. Postpartum psychosis is such a terrible and difficult illness, and you’re right that every family going through it deserves to have immediate and effective help. If you haven’t already, you might call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4PPD and ask for resources in your daughter’s area. They could give you contacts of people who could perhaps help you or her partner get her to see that she needs treatment. It’s crucial, as you already know, for her to get treated as soon as possible, because there is a risk with this illness that she could hurt herself or someone else.

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  37. I may have experienced a few of these symptoms, but not the whole list. I was never treated for suicide ideation because my husband refused to believe I was as bad as I was. It was not until years later that I was finally hospitalized. I often wondered if I had been treated for post partum depression or psychosis would I have ended up like this? I have been hospitalized twice for depression (17 years later), and am finally getting a grip on my depression. This article has been very insightful, I only wish I had red it years ago. It may have saved my marriage and my family. I walked away from all of them (it) almost three years ago and have never been happier/saner.

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