Beyond the Baby Blues – Postpartum Mood Disorders
You just gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby. All ten fingers. All ten toes. Two big, beautiful eyes stare up at you, and . . . you’re terrified. You’re nervous. You’re depressed and prone to fits of crying. You’re manic and can’t sleep, calm yourself or think straight. You experience wild mood swings in the course of a few minutes. You feel shame and guilt because this isn’t how you’re supposed to feel. You should be filled with joy, awe and deep love for this little life you’ve just brought into the world, right? Wrong. Postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and/or psychosis can all be a very real part of being a new mom—whether it’s your first or fifth child.
Although I was familiar with postpartum depression (PPD), I had not heard of postpartum anxiety (PPA), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or postpartum psychosis (PPP). That is, until my friend experienced postpartum psychosis. It was scary and heartbreaking to see her and her husband going through this and not knowing how to help. I was surprised to discover how little material there was available about PPA, OCD and PPP. I began researching these postpartum mood disorders. I assembled whatever information I could find, unsure of what I would do with the information, but knowing I wanted to share it. Enter in CONNECT Summit County and this blog post. My hope is that the information provided here will shed light on some very real, very common postpartum mood disorders.
The “baby blues” do mirror many of the symptoms of PPD, like mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping, but they are not one in the same. The “baby blues” typically only last for a few weeks post-delivery. Postpartum depression’s symptoms are more intense (difficulty bonding with the baby, withdrawing from family or friends, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and thoughts of death or suicide) and last longer. The ability to care for the baby or manage daily tasks becomes overwheleming.
According to one study that looked at close to 4500 postpartum women, 18% reported experiencing anxiety symptoms, and 35% experienced postpartum depression (PPD). Those numbers are significant—and shows just how common these postpartum mood disorders are. It’s important to note that these disorders can occur together and have similar physical symptoms. Postpartum psychosis occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries.
The ups and downs of estrogen and progesterone levels play a big part in why these disorders can happen. But hormonal changes happen in every woman, yet not every woman experiences postpartum mood disorder(s). Previous challenges with anxiety, OCD, and depression, or a family history, puts women at higher risk. For women with a personal or family history of bipolar disorder or a previous psychotic episode, the risk for postpartum psychosis is the greatest.
According to Postpartum Support International, Postpartum anxiety, or PPA, can cause extreme worries and fears. Some women may have panic attacks (symptoms that are akin to having a heart attack) or the inability to sit still or quiet negative, racing thoughts. Postpartum anxiety can take the form of Postpartum Panic Disorder or Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well.
These illnesses are temporary and treatable with professional help.
Postpartum psychosis, or PPP, can cause someone to see and hear voices or images (hallucinations). They may distrust those around them, have irrational judgment, and believe things that aren’t true (delusions). Periods of confusion and memory loss can occur, as can periods of mania.
PPP symptoms generally occur within the first two weeks after giving birth—sometimes within just a few hours or days. However, symptoms can begin several weeks after the baby is born.
Postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable with professional help, but the illness is severe and can be dangerous. Approximately 5% of women with PPP take their own life and there’s a 4% infanticide rate associated with the illness. (The risk for suicide can rise greatly for a year or longer after delivery.) It is essential that the illness be treated as an emergency and the individual receives immediate care by a trained healthcare perinatal mental health professional.
Recovery looks different for everyone and successful recovery depends on getting the right mental health support (at the right time), needed medication, and support from family and/or friends. On average, most severe symptoms tend to last two weeks to three months. Complete recovery can take six to 12 months.
Depression, anxiety and lack of confidence can sometimes follow an episode of postpartum psychosis. Feelings of sadness (over what might have been missed) can occur and coming to terms with what happened can take considerable time. Ongoing support may be required.
If you or someone you know is suffering with postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, or psychosis, reach out. Ask for help. Depression and anxiety can snowball quickly rather than resolve on their own. And postpartum psychosis requires immediate attention. These mood disorders will not resolve on their own.
There is no need to suffer through it or feel like you’re the only one feeling this way—or worse yet, feeling shame or guilt around your illness. Your illness is not your doing. It is not your fault. Please, ask for help.
Although Summit County does not have inpatient services to help those dealing with PPD, PPA or PPP, CONNECT Summit County can help connect people to needed services. CONNECT’s Peer Navigators help individuals find the services, treatment facilities, providers and/or other needed resources. This is a free and confidential service, regardless of insurance status. And there is help and support not too far away:
911 Ask for the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team if you need help getting someone to the hospital
800-273-8255 National Crisis Hotline (Utah)
435-658-9998 Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI) | Park City Behavioral Health Clinic
801-585-1212 HMHI | Maternal Mental Health Services
ADDITIONAL SUPPORT FOR NON-CRISIS SITUATIONS
435-776-4357 CONNECT Summit County Park City
435-655-5498 The Hive Family Collective Park City
801-305-3171 The Healing Group Salt Lake City
RESOURCES PROMOTING EMPATHY AND UNDERSTANDING
Movie: When the Bough Breaks: A Documentary About Postpartum Depression (free on IMDb TV)
TV: Scrubs – Season 6: Episodes 4 and 5 (available on Philo, Hulu, YouTubeTV, Sling, Amazon)
About the Author: Suzanne St. Pierre is a volunteer with CONNECT Summit County, and is passionate about erasing the stigma of mental illness so that more people can seek the help that they need to live healthy lives. Suzanne works with the marketing firm Pivot Group, and lives locally in Summit County.