What is PostPartum Psychosis?

 “Playing Monopoly With God” creator and PPP survivor Melissa Bangs. Photo couresy of: Nichole Peterson / NP Images

“Playing Monopoly With God” creator and PPP survivor Melissa Bangs.
Photo couresy of: Nichole Peterson / NP Images

Postpartum Psychosis is a rare and severe form of mental illness that occurs after having a baby in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries. While these statistics may sound small, its effects are anything but: Women experiencing PPP have lost touch with reality and are in danger of hurting themselves or their children due to this psychiatric illness. This uncommon form of postpartum illness is considered the most severe type and almost invariably requires hospitalization. Read on for facts about how to identify and address it.
 

Risk Factors

The most significant risk factors for Postpartum Psychosis are a personal or family history of bipolar disorder, or a previous psychotic episode. The illness normally begins in the first few days to weeks after childbirth. In some instances, it can begin immediately after delivery. It can become very acute quickly and should be treated as a medical emergency.
 

Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis

There are a variety of symptoms that women with Postpartum Psychosis can experience:

  • Confusion
  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty communicating at times


It is also important to know that many survivors of Postpartum Psychosis never experienced hallucinations containing violent commands. 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. This is precisely why women with this illness must be quickly assessed, treated, and carefully monitored by trained mental healthcare professionals.
 

Treatment

A woman experiencing Postpartum Psychosis is almost always psychiatrically hospitalized for safety reasons. Treatments during the psychotic episode include medications to reduce psychosis and stabilize moods, as well as psychotherapy for the patient, and psychoeducation for their family and loved ones.

Examples of medications used during an episode of PPP include:

  • Antipsychotics: These medications reduce hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. Examples include quetiapine (Seroquel), risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), and aripiprazole (Abilify).
  • Mood stabilizers: These medications reduce the highs and lows of a bipolar episode. Examples include lithium (Lithobid) and lamotrigine (Lamictal).
  • Anti-anxiety medications: These medications can help decrease acute anxiety and insomnia experienced during psychotic episodes. Examples include clonazepam (Klonapin) and lorazepam (Ativan).

Often, a woman experiencing PPP requires a combination of the above medications.

Postpartum Psychosis can be frightening and shocking for both the woman experiencing it and her loved ones. With the right treatment, women with PPP can recover and fully experience motherhood.
 

There’s more to the story…

In September 2012, at 40 years old, Bangs gave birth to her beautiful daughter Adelaide. A month later, dramatically hormone depleted and sleep deprived, Melissa is admitted to the Providence Psychiatric Facilities in a complete manic state. After nearly a month, she is sent home with a bipolar diagnosis and on lithium. What comes next is an extraordinary journey.

 Photo courtesy of: MICHAEL GALLACHER / MISSOULIAN

Photo courtesy of: MICHAEL GALLACHER / MISSOULIAN

 

On her path back to wholeness, one of the things Bangs did was read her entire 100 plus page hospital record. Somewhere, around page 87, there is a nurse’s note that looks as if it were scribbled late at night after a long shift. It reads, “Patient says she will do comedy on this experience.”

The psych team couldn’t have possibly known that Bangs has been a storyteller her entire life and did comedy for a stint, as a student, at the Upright Citizens’ Brigade in New York City. They couldn't have known that transforming details from the most painful experience of her life into a room full of laughter would prove healing for so many.


If you think you have PPD, Call The Motherhood Center - 347-343-4257. We are here to tell you for sure if you have postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. And more importantly, if you do, we will provide the treatment you need to feel better. With the right treatment, EVERYONE feels better.