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Postpartum depression, anxiety and psychosis: Know the signs and how to get help

No one should have to suffer alone with postpartum mental health issues.
by Rebecca Dube /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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More babies are born in July and August than any other month of the year in the United States. That means we have a lot of new babies and new parents out there — welcome!

The first thing new parents need to know is, you're not alone. You may feel like you have no idea what you're doing, but trust us, millions of parents have gone through this same whirlwind of overwhelming emotion.

For many new moms, that may include postpartum mental health issues like depression or anxiety.

'You can get better'

Postpartum mental health issues are totally treatable: According to Ann Smith, the president of Postpartum Support International, 99 percent of women with postpartum mood disorders get better with treatment. But, she said, only 30 percent seek help.

Her message? “This is a condition that has really good treatment. You can get well. You WILL get well.”

What’s blocking the way, Smith said, is the stigma around mental illness and what she calls the “myth of motherhood.”

“It’s supposed to be this Hallmark greeting card with a beautiful baby,” Smith said. The reality is often different, and women need to know that's OK.

A lot of new moms suffer in silence, but you shouldn't have to — help is out there and SO many moms have gone through the same thing and are here to give you a helping hand.

Here's a basic guide to some of the most common postpartum mental health issues, and how to reach out for help (for yourself or someone you love — remember, a lot of the time the person suffering from mental health issues might not be able to ask for help themselves, so please look out for one another).

What is postpartum depression?

One in 7 women experience depression after pregnancy, and one in 10 have depression during pregnancy. Symptoms include:

  • Anger or irritability
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Disturbances in appetite and sleep
  • Crying or sadness
  • Feelings of guilt, shame or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Possible thoughts of harming the baby or yourself

"All moms go through stress. Regular motherhood is difficult, but it's not this," Smith said.

Source: Postpartum Support International.

What is postpartum psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis is a much more rare illness that affects one to two out of every 1,000 new mothers. Onset is often within the first two weeks after having a baby. Symptoms include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there)
  • Feeling very irritated
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Paranoia
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty communicating at times

People experiencing psychosis experience a break from reality. Postpartum psychosis is temporary and treatable with professional help, but it can be dangerous. Call 911 or an emergency crisis hotline right away to get help. Postpartum Support International also has a postpartum psychosis coordinator to help women and families who aren't in an immediate emergency situation. Find out more on their website, here.

Source: Postpartum Support International.

What is postpartum anxiety?

Postpartum anxiety is very common, affecting about one in 10 new moms, and not very well understood. Often, people don't seek help because their symptoms don't match up with classic postpartum depression — but postpartum anxiety is very treatable. Symptoms include:

  • Constant worry
  • Feeling that something bad will happen
  • Racing thoughts
  • Sleep and appetite disturbances
  • Inability to sit still
  • Dizziness, hot flashes, nausea

Source: Postpartum Support International.

Postpartum mental health: Moms who have BTDT

The TODAY Parenting Team asked our contributors to share their own experiences with postpartum mental health on our Parenting Team. You can read their responses and share your own here. (Everyone is welcome to join the TODAY Parenting Team and contribute.)

The day my postpartum depression almost got the best of me, by Christine Burke

"As I stood there, bottle in hand, mirror in front of me reflecting anguish, I made a choice. I chose me. All of me, every last messy, loving, crazy, funny, depressed part of me. I chose to walk downstairs and hand that bottle to my husband and tell him I was falling apart."

Why every mom needs a postpartum mental health plan, by Jill Krause

"I didn't realize that I was full of rage because I was sick. I just thought I was a horrible mother."

'Tully' and how to help, really help, a new mom, by Catherine Pearlman

"Early motherhood doesn’t remotely resemble the blissful existence typically seen in movies. And it’s almost never the breathtakingly beautiful pictures presented on social media. Nope, it’s really none of that."

Where to find help

Find more information and resources on the Postpartum Support International website, www.postpartum.net. They have a 24-hour, national hotline: 1-800-944-4773. Call it and within two hours you can get a call or text back from a trained volunteer who can help.

If you're having thoughts about suicide or feel like you might harm yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Help is out there, and you can get better.

Editor's Note: This story was first published on May 7, 2018, and has been updated.

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