That’s because postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a “psychiatric emergency,” said Margaret Spinelli, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. Think of it as a heart attack, Twomey said. “You might survive it without immediate aid, but why risk it?”
PPP is a temporary but serious illness characterized by delusional thinking. Twomey, a survivor of PPP, described it as “a different reality superimposed onto this reality.” For instance, it’s like watching a TV show and believing that it’s perfectly normal for the actors to be speaking to you, she said.
PPP has a rapid onset, usually starting in the first days or weeks after the baby’s birth, said Katherine Stone, an advocate for women who suffer pregnancy- or childbirth-related mental illnesses and founder and editor of the award-winning blog Postpartum Progress.
This illness requires immediate medical attention because there is a risk of suicide or infanticide, Stone said. In other words, “postpartum psychosis has the potential to lead a mother to take actions that she would never otherwise take that could harm herself or others,” she said.
Still, it’s common for people to dismiss this risk. We know that our loved ones are good people who’d never hurt their kids (as are we), Twomey said. However, this has nothing to do with a woman’s character or ability to be a good mom, Stone said. (It’s also not her fault!) Again, PPP is an illness — and one with unpredictable actions, Dr. Spinelli said.
Fortunately, PPP is fully treatable. Below, experts discuss the warning signs, risk factors and how families and friends can help.
Warning Signs of Postpartum Psychosis
“Since women with postpartum psychosis often experience a lack of insight, it’s usually the people around her who will be the ones to recognize something is wrong,” Stone said. In fact, Twomey called family members “the first line of defense.”