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What is Postpartum Psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis is a rare yet severe mental health condition that can occur after childbirth and may be life-threatening. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis and promptly seeking treatment is crucial for the recovery and well-being of the person experiencing it.

Postpartum psychosis impacts one to two in every 1,000 pregnancies, but its cause is unknown. This diagnosis impacts one’s ability to be in touch with reality and may cause delusions, paranoia, extreme confusion, and auditory or visual hallucinations. For those who have auditory hallucinations, the experience may be extreme, even telling them to harm themselves or their child(ren). The onset of symptoms can happen between one to six weeks after birth and it can take up to a year to recover from them. The baseline symptoms tend to be the same for each person, but the variety and severity can vary.

It is possible that someone experiencing symptoms of postpartum psychosis is unaware that they are actually in psychosis. If the person has a history of manic episodes, they can more accurately recognize what is happening. “If psychosis is something new to them, they likely will not know that it is happening as they truly believe what they are experiencing,” says Ashley Askins, Clinical Supervisor at Centerstone. Auditory and visual hallucinations can be incredibly convincing and feel very real for the person experiencing it.

While there is no known cause for postpartum psychosis, there are some factors that may make someone more susceptible to it such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Other factors that may cause symptoms include:

  • Trauma experienced during pregnancy or birth
  • A family member experiencing it
  • Extreme exhaustion following birth
  • If you have experienced it with previous pregnancies

If someone you know starts to show signs of postpartum psychosis, there are a few ways you can proceed. If you sense there may be an immediate danger to the parent or baby, call 911 immediately. If you don’t think there is an immediate threat of danger, you may consider calling the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, their primary care doctor, or OB-GYN who will be able to provide additional resources. When you call 988, they can offer immediate assistance, help you understand their symptoms, and help guide you on next steps which may include sending a crisis counselor to your home to assist, or instructing you to call 911. Typically, the first step for someone experiencing postpartum psychosis is hospitalization in order to get them stabilized and ensure their safety. From there, a treatment plan can be developed. Most often, postpartum psychosis is treated with medication and therapy. “It can be hard to treat someone who is having hallucinations or delusions with therapy alone without medication to stabilize them first,” adds Askins.

Raising awareness about postpartum psychosis is crucial in reducing stigma and ensuring that new mothers receive the care and compassion they need during one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. If you or someone you know may be showing signs of postpartum psychosis, call 988 or 911. When it’s time for treatment, Centerstone can help. Get connected with our counseling services by visiting our website or by calling us at 877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123).

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