For International Fathers Mental Health Day (21 June 2021), Simon, Partner Peer Support Facilitator for Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), shares a little of his own experience of supporting someone with postpartum psychosis and the effect it can have across the family.
Spotlight on postpartum psychosis
Postpartum psychosis (PP) - never even heard of it? Neither had I but it would shortly become one of the biggest learning experiences I’d ever endured and really tested my mental well-being.
In the first couple of weeks after my wife gave birth, I had noticed subtle changes in her mood, but, as a first-time father, I didn’t really know what was ‘usual’ or ‘unusual’ after birth. A few weeks later and these changes took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse, things became very scary, very quickly.
Over the next few days, she woke in the early hours ‘ghost like’, her mood had plummeted, she was anxious, confused, pacing around the house, having delusions and hallucinations, ultimately it all ended in a 999 call. I found myself in complete turmoil and throughout our journey with PP, had times where I went through every emotion possible - from being terrified, to feeling isolated, worried about the future and even feeling guilt-ridden for decisions I’d had to take; with little sleep, the pressure I felt was enormous, however, the support we received from family, friends and eventually specialist health professionals treating my wife was vital.
Now working as the Partner Peer Support Facilitator for Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), the leading national charity for women, partners and families affected by PP, we know how difficult PP can be and how it affects not only the women who directly experience it, but also the partners and families who watch their loved ones go through it. This trauma can have a lasting effect on the wider family’s mental health, if not supported appropriately.
Father’s mental health
“She just stood there and screamed.”
“Somehow she had changed the world and she was watching the news, in the belief that she would see herself on it and they would report on what she had done.”
During the initial crisis, many partners describe feeling like their world has been turned upside down, with little or no control over the situation. They often talk of not knowing what was happening, feeling alone and scared; desperate to find information and to help their partner.
Postpartum psychosis as a father or partner, feels very much like a journey with a number of possible stages, from the initial crisis, potential admission to hospital, returning home and recovery - all of which bring different feelings and concerns to the fore. Just holding it together, having to keep strong for your wife or family members can sometimes see you not considering or letting on how worried you are, which in turn can lead to fathers suffering with their own mental ill-health.
What is postpartum psychosis?
Postpartum psychosis (PP) is a severe but treatable form of mental illness. It usually starts within the first couple of days to weeks after childbirth. Some develop symptoms very quickly whereas for others, symptoms can be more gradual or come and go. 50% of women experience postpartum psychosis “out of the blue” with no previous history of mental health problems.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Symptoms often include:
• Confusion or racing thoughts
• Feeling unusually high or elated
• Being unable to or not needing to sleep
• Beliefs that are unusual or concerning to others
• Seeing, hearing or sensing things that others can’t
Getting help for your partner
It is important that PP is always treated as a medical emergency, which requires rapid intervention and is best treated in a specialised Mother and Baby Unit (MBU). With the right treatment and support, women with PP do make a full recovery and families are able to move on with their lives together.
• If your partner is under the care of a mental health team, contact them or your Crisis Team
• If your partner hasn’t been in mental health services before:
o See your GP urgently (the same day) or contact NHS 111
o If you cannot see your GP, go to your local A&E department
• If you think there is imminent danger (e.g. that your partner may hurt herself) call 999 and ask for an ambulance
Getting help for you
• Talk with your wife/partner’s medical team
• See your own GP
• Confide in a trusted family member or friend
• Speak to APP, see below and our website, for all our possible support options too
What’s the outlook for a family that has experienced PP?
Extremely good, with the right treatment the majority of women go on to make a full recovery and return to their normal selves, embracing motherhood and enjoying family life. While recovery can often be a long journey, there is hope and all of our storytellers and volunteers at APP, both women and their partners, are proof that people can and do recover.
Support at APP
We know that partners contact us at many different stages throughout their journey – whether in the early days of the crisis, partway through the journey or, in some instances, even years later.
APP are here to support you along the journey, no matter when you feel you need it. Our website has lots of information, guides and links to getting help:
• Action on Postpartum Psychosis | National charity supporting women and families
• 1:1 chat support via email, call or video
• Resources for Partners - https://www.app-network.org/partners
• PP Insider Guides – includes a partner guide - https://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/app-guides
• APP Partners Group on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/groups/APPpartnersgroup
• Partner virtual café
Please do get in touch if we can help you, see our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org
More on Action for Postpartum Psychosis
APP is the leading charity supporting women, partners and families affected by PP. It’s a collaborative project run by people who have lived experience of PP, specialist health professionals and academic experts from Birmingham & Cardiff universities; our aims include:
• To provide up to date information to women and their families who have experienced PP
• To facilitate a peer support network for women and their families
• To increase awareness of PP, its symptoms, management and impact among health professionals and the general public
• To facilitate research into all aspects of PP
• To advocate for improved services for women and their families