First recognized as a disorder in 1850, postpartum psychosis is a very serious mental condition that requires immediate medical attention. Interestingly, studies on the rates of the disorder have shown that the number of women experiencing postpartum psychosis haven’t changed since the mid 1800s.
What Is Postpartum Psychosis?
While it is the most extreme form of postpartum mood disorders, postpartum psychosis is also one of the rarest. Usually described as a period when a woman loses touch with reality, the disorder occurs in women who have recently given birth. It affects between one and two women per 1,000 women who have given birth.
Unfortunately, though many women with the disorder realize something is wrong with them, fewer than 20% actually speak to their healthcare provider. Sadder still is the fact that often postpartum psychosis is misdiagnosed or thought to be postpartum depression, thereby preventing a woman from receiving the appropriate medical attention that she needs.
Women who do receive proper treatment often respond well but usually experience postpartum depression before completely recovering. However, without treatment, the psychosis can lead to tragic consequences. Postpartum psychosis has a 5% suicide rate and a 4% infanticide rate.
Postpartum Psychosis Signs
Although the onset of symptoms can occur at anytime within the first three months after giving birth, women who have postpartum psychosis usually develop symptoms within the first two to three weeks after delivery. Postpartum psychosis symptoms usually appear quite suddenly; in 80% of cases, the psychosis occurs three to 14 days after a symptom-free period.
Signs of postpartum psychosis include:
- Illogical thoughts
- Refusing to eat
- Extreme feelings of anxiety and agitation
- Periods of delirium or mania
- Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
Who Is At Risk?
Women with a personal history of psychosis, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia have an increased risk of developing postpartum psychosis. Likewise, women who have a family history of psychosis, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia have a greater chance of developing the disorder. Additonally, women who have had had a past incidence of postpartum psychosis are between 20% and 50% more likely of experiencing it again in a future pregnancy.
Causes of Postpartum Psychosis
Experts aren’t exactly sure why postpartum psychosis happens. However, they do offer a variety of explanations for the disorder, with a woman’s changing hormones being at the top of their list. Other possible reasons or contributing factors include a lack of social and emotional support; a low sense of self-esteem due to a woman’s postpartum appearance; feeling inadequate as a mother; feeling isolated and alone; having financial problems; and undergoing a major life change such as moving or starting a new job.
Treating Postpartum Psychosis
Postpartum psychosis is considered to be a mental health emergency and therefore requires immediate attention. Because women who suffer from the psychosis are not always able or willing to speak with someone about their disorder, it is sometimes necessary that their partner or another family member help them get the medical attention they need. The condition is usually treated with medications, typically antipsychotic drugs and sometimes antidepressants and/or antianxiety drugs. If a woman is thought to pose a threat to herself or others, she will likely be hospitalized for a short time. Many women can also benefit from psychological counseling and support group therapy. With proper care, most women are able to recover from their disorder.
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