Postpartum Depression, Psychosis and Bipolar Disorder

Today on the Bipolar Burble blog Melanie Williams brings us a piece on something that isn’t talked about nearly enough: postpartum depression and its relationship to bipolar disorder.

Jon Avnet, the creator of the Web series “Susanna,” told CBS News the reason he created the show was because of how prevalent postpartum depression is, yet nobody talks about it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 to 15 % of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression within a few weeks of their child’s birth. The condition, however, can affect women up to a year after giving birth. It is also not exclusive to females. The Psychiatric Times cited several clinical studies and said up to 25% of new fathers also suffer from postpartum depression.

The tragic death of Miriam Carey, the 34-year-old new mother who was shot and killed by Washington, D.C., police in early October, brought much needed attention to a condition that affects so many people. Seek immediate medical attention for any noticeable or even subtle signs of postpartum depression in yourself or a loved one.

Postpartum Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Postpartum Depression and BipolarThis year, researchers at Northwestern Medicine conducted the largest ever study on postpartum depression. The study screened 10,000 women who had recently given birth. Fourteen per cent of the participants tested positive, and 20% of those women had suicidal thoughts. Dr. Katherine Wisner, the lead researcher in the study, told Science Daily that a vast majority of postpartum patients never seek help, which can lead to tragic results.

Bipolar disorder was diagnosed in 22% of the positive postpartum women, and during the study, a vast majority of these women found out for the first time that they suffered from the disorder. Researchers concluded that women who had previously been treated for a psychological disorder are at higher risk of suffering from postpartum depression than those who have not. A 2006 Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey also found that women who live in large urban areas are at much higher risk for postpartum depression than those who live in rural or small communities.

Warning Signs of Postpartum Depression

Ideally, the moment you take that home pregnancy test and get a positive result is when your prenatal care should begin. Research your postnatal care while you are pregnant to make a smooth and prepared transition. The Mayo Clinic refers to the first two weeks of new motherhood and the potential depression that comes with it the “baby blues,” which are normal. Mood swings, anxiety, crying and trouble falling asleep beyond that are symptoms that should prompt an immediate trip to your doctor. Symptoms of the more severe postpartum depression include loss of appetite, loss of libido, difficulty bonding with the baby, suicidal thoughts, and withdrawal from friends and family. If you are suffering from paranoia, hallucinations and/or thoughts of harming yourself or the baby, you may be experiencing postpartum psychosis, which is considerably more common in people with bipolar disorder. Postpartum psychosis can be fatal for the baby and mother and requires emergency help.

Melanie Williams Melanie is a stay-at-home mom who runs a marketing consulting company.

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  1. I would like to raise awareness of post partum psychosis. Again, like many people, my husband and I did not realize that this exsisted. Our experience was very traumatic, 11 years ago and the experience is still playing over in my mind. The lack of facilities of support in New Zealand to keep mother and baby together is sad, I imagine it’s the same in other countries too. I was put inside a mental hospital and treated like a criminal crazy.
    There is so much misunderstood in regards to the profound spiritual heightened state, if people were safe in this space the World would be a better place.
    I now believe that I have bipolar. During high times of stress I loose sleep and have a manic episode, it then cycles the other way and I’m depressed, suicidal thoughts, for months. This pattern has been the past 6 years. The up time feeling good about who I am, what I do, my place in the universe, intuition and energy is great, but not worth the depression. .I read medicinal marijuana helps to keep on an even keel. I’m not keen on lithium or any drugs that will put weight on me, as that fuels my depression. Does anybody have any further advice please?

  2. There is also the least-known postpartum mood and anxiety disorder of bipolar, peripartum onset or postpartum bipolar disorder.

    Postpartum bipolar disorder is essentially childbirth-triggered bipolar, and it can manifest as mania or depression. Postpartum bipolar can accompany postpartum psychosis, but it doesn’t always do so, and it’s a separate condition. When my baby was born I was hypomanic, and that escalated.I was also hyper graphic, which is a bizarre condition in which one compulsively writes. There’s a great book that mentions it called “The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block and the Creative Brain” by Harvard professor Dr. Alice Flaherty, a neurologist who also had postpartum bipolar and hypergraphia.

    I write extensively about postpartum bipolar on my blog, and my book about it will be published next year by Post Hill Press. My postpartum bipolar story (in a nutshell )appears on the acclaimed website Postpartum Progress and I’ll be blogging about it for Huffington Post this month. If I knew before having a baby that it was very likely I could have postpartum bipolar, my life would have been spared a ton of agony and hospital bills. I’m trying to help other women not go through the hell I have suffered by spreading awareness in both the bipolar and postpartum professional and advocacy communities, for many people are unaware of this postpartum mood disorder.

    Thanks for sharing Melanie’s post!
    Dyane

    • Thank you, Dyane, for mentioning postpartum bipolar disorder, or bipolar disorder peripartum onset. I wasn’t diagnosed bipolar until after I had my son. My hypomanic symptoms were triggered by pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. It is important that women be aware of the risks involved in pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Hormones affect our biochemistry and affect our brains, as does the stress of mothering an infant.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. There needs to be more information out there for people like me (I had postpartum depression with my first and postpartum psychosis with my second, now I have bipolar disorder). So they can find, get help and live normal-ish lives.

    I mean who really is normal?

  4. I was 18 when I was having my son and become horribly depressed. I cut myself and HATED the baby inside because it was his fault I couldn’t kill myself. When he was born I wouldn’t hold him and couldn’t stand to look at him. Luckily my mom helped with him( I did still make sure he thank goodness). Anyway, my dr hospitalized me when my son was 3wks old. The dr put me on antidepressants for the “baby blues”. When the dr was visiting with me for my discharged he made the comment that I may be bipolar “this was 2000” That was it. No explanation about what bipolar was. It took me almost a year to snap out of things and almost 10yrs of ups and downs before I was finally diagnosed with BP1 with psychotic features. I’ve thought back to then a few times and wish like crazy that dr would of taken more time and explained things to me. It would of saved a lot of heartache. Somehow through it all I still managed to have a great family(of course still with issues as my son is bipolar) a great husband(I got it right the second go round) and a good job. But I still can’t help but think I could of been a MUCH better mom had I known sooner.

  5. Great post but geez it brings back some really bad memories. My wife experienced what was called at the time “postpartum psychosis” and has now been reclassified as schizoaffective disorder. She was an inpatient of th elocal mental health hospital ward for 12 weeks with absolutely no sign of improvement. If anything she was actually getting worse every day. In desperation we turned to ECT and it is the best thing we have ever done in regards to her mental health.

    I had never heard of this issue until it happened to us. It was extremely scary, confrontational and depressing and put an enormous strain of every aspect of our life.

    My deep and sincere condolences go to all who are affected in any way by this evil condition

  6. Pingback: Postpartum Depression Risk in Bipolar Women | Pepper Hadlow

  7. I suffered from severe PPD. It started when I was about 8 months pregnant. I just didn’t feel as excited as I should have and things just didn’t seem right. But i am very good at hiding things like that. I have two boys and this time i was having a girl.

    After months of no sleep and racing thoughts I had my first manic attack. I heard a voice, a deep man;s voice. what he asked me to do would have been terminal for my three children. He didn’t exactly ask it was more like a suggestion. That day I was so manic, I left the house and gave my kids to my husband. I went walking. briskly.

    It started to rain but i didn’t care. When I heard the voice I started sobbing in the middle of the street. If someone would have come to help I would have told them everything. But I didn’t I didn’t tell anyone for ten years.

  8. I’d just like to say Thank You. Most of your information is very helpful. But, not all of us are alike. I’ve lived through most of my life with a set of strict morales, most of which you or I don’t see anymore. I’m beginning to think I’m the last gentleman out there. But, I have also suffered…being diagnosed later in my life, has not made me forget about my morales, my family, or my friends. The only thing I regret is the fact that most people are quick to avoid us or pass judgement before they get to know us, ’cause not all of us are the same. Thank you for your time.

  9. Thank you for this; I have not previously heard of evidence showing that post partum depression and/or psychosis is a big indicator of bipolar disorder. Even being hospitalized for PPD after a life long history of “atypical” major depression didn’t get me diagnosed with bipolar back in the 1990s — I researched it and connected with people on the proto-Internet and diagnosed myself eventually with bipolar 2! Then I convinced my psychiatrist, and that marked a whole new chapter in my life. Correct diagnosis = right treatment = getting your life back.

    I think PPD is still under diagnosed and under treated because of the unreasonable expectations of mothers in our culture. Anything less than joy and “radiance” in a new mother is somehow a negative reflection on her “maternal instincts” etc. — so something like full blown psychosis or severe depression is beyond understanding to many people, including many doctors, unfortunately.

    When will there be full awareness of mental health issues among doctors? Attitudes in the wider society probably won’t change without it.

  10. One of the markers for having been 1st diagnosed with Bipolar, after so utter many years of being diagnosed ONLY as Major Depressive Recurring… was that I had Post-P Disorder with 2 pregnancies.

    My first… drove me to an inpatient stay for a month due to hallucinations, delusions, non-sleep and scratching myself till I was raw

    The second… also drove me to an inpatient stay for 3 days, due to having admitted to pulling my baby’s blanket over her head while she was in her bassinet (I also removed the blanket upon realizing). I only got 3 days with that one because that’s what insurance paid for…

    I didn’t bond with her, until she was about 6 months old… just went through the motions and rarely slept.

    The PPDs did not, just last, those specific time periods… I struggled the first time – for nearly a year and the 2nd one – about 7 months.

    I was later informed that these “cemented” the Bipolar diagnoses that I would receive some years later…

    • Hi Tabby,

      I’m sorry to hear you went through that. Psychosis sounds so incredibly scary and I’m sorry it took you so long to get the right diagnosis. I’d love to run into the hospital and talk to anyone with postpartum and force them to get a real screening for bipolar, but I don’t have that power. It’s good that eventually you got the right diagnosis though. That is the good news.

      – Natasha Tracy

  11. Very interesting and timely topic. I have never seen the connection to bipolar before. I will have to find more information on the topic. Thanks for sharing. You have always presented great topics.