clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Postpartum psychosis rare, but nothing new, experts say

Between 10 percent and 20 percent of new moms suffer severe postpartum depression, which can last for months and include feelings of helplessness, intense anxiety and suicidal urges.

Melanie Blocker Stokes with her baby Sommer Skyy and husband Dr. Sam Stokes. Earlier this month, the new mom leaped to her death from the 12th story of a North Side hotel while suffering postpartum psychosis.
Provided

Perky entertainer Marie Osmond made headlines when she revealed she had suffered debilitating depression after the birth of her seventh child.

Melanie Stokes, a new mother known for her sunny disposition, earlier this month leaped to her death from the 12th story of a North Side hotel while suffering postpartum psychosis.

Amy Garvey of Algonquin, who according to friends fell into depression after her daughter’s birth a year ago, drowned in Lake Michigan, officials said Thursday.

And in Houston this week, police said Andrea Yates, a mother who had been depressed since the birth of a child two years ago, has admitted drowning her five children.

Is there an epidemic of postpartum mental illness?

Probably not, experts say.

“It’s been around since the time of Hippocrates,” said Andrea Dresser, secretary of Postpartum Support International. “It’s just getting more media attention now.”

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, was perhaps the first to describe in detail the problems women experience after birth.

Between 10 percent and 20 percent of new moms suffer severe postpartum depression, which can last for months and include feelings of helplessness, intense anxiety and suicidal urges.

The most severe condition is postpartum psychosis, which affects about one in 1,000 new mothers. Symptoms include hallucinations, hearing voices, paranoia, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, delusions and severe insomnia. Experts believe postpartum psychosis is triggered by a steep and rapid drop in progesterone levels after childbirth.

Societal changes may be increasing the risk of postpartum disorders, said Laurence Kruckman, a medical anthropologist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Women who have moved away from their hometowns don’t get much help from grandparents, and new moms who go back to work may feel overwhelmed.

“They’re isolated and more vulnerable,” Kruckman said.