A University of Birmingham founded project, Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), along with two leading mental health charities, have helped EastEnders to dramatise postpartum psychosis in a high profile storyline, focusing on the character Stacey, who has bipolar disorder and develops postpartum psychosis after childbirth.
Experts and women with lived experience from Action on Postpartum Psychosis advised the script writers over several months, alongside representatives from charities Bipolar UK, and Mind.
Dr Jessica Heron, Senior Research Fellow in Perinatal Psychiatry at the University of Birmingham and Director of Action on Postpartum Psychosis says:
“The lack of public awareness of postpartum psychosis and its symptoms mean that diagnosis and treatment may be delayed, leading to longer, more severe and traumatic episodes, and risking tragic outcomes. The lack of public knowledge impacts recovery too; women and their families feel ashamed, stigmatised and isolated, reluctant to talk about their experience, even to friends and other new mums. Being able to talk to others with personal experience is really important to the recovery process. APP provides an online forum where women and families affected by the illness can talk to others who understand what they have been through.”
It is hoped that raising awareness of postpartum psychosis and bipolar disorder through Stacey’s story will help reduce stigma and encourage affected individuals to seek support.
Postpartum psychosis, which is distinct from postnatal depression, is an episode of severe mental illness that normally occurs shortly after giving birth and escalates rapidly. Some groups of women are at greater risk, such as those who have experienced the condition previously, or those with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. However, postpartum psychosis can also affect women with no history of mental illness. Around 1,400 cases occur each year in the UK. With symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, mania, depression, and anxiety, women experiencing postpartum psychosis should receive specialist treatment. Although the condition can escalate quickly and should always be treated as a medical emergency, full recovery is possible. Often this includes medication and hospitalization. There is no evidence of any impact on the baby’s long term development.
The causes of postpartum psychosis are still unclear, although current studies suggest that genetics, hormones and disrupted sleep all may be involved. More research, such as that carried out by APP and Dr Jessica Heron at the University of Birmingham, is desperately needed.