Articles

Postnatal Psychosis: The stigma of mothers with mental illness

December 24, 2019


And that’s when the security guards appeared and that’s when I thought, my God this is really quite big. My name’s Amanda Walsh and I’m nervous. -Sorry.
-It’s okay. I’ll pretend the camera’s not there. What are you nervous about? That I’m not gonna do a good job. My clan is Charlotte who’s 12, Liam who’s 8 and my husband, that’s my little clan. -Does husband have a name?
-Julian. Yes. So when did you first start to feel like something wasn’t quite right? I was home with the two. So I was a stay at home mum. I was lonely. I missed people, I missed work, I missed interaction with people. I missed someone telling me I’m doing a good job. The most contact I had at the time was going to a playgroup. And then things went downhill from there. Paranoia. Hearing voices. -Frightening scary stuff, hearing voices.
-What were the voices? There was party poppers and things popped in the kitchen and I thought hang on a second, where did all that come from? Started to wonder about myself at that point. What was it about the party poppers? Has someone been in the house or am I not watching the kids well enough? That’s terrible I didnt know she’d been in the cupboards, there could of been something in the cupboards that was dangerous. What did you think people had been doing with the party poppers? That’d they’d been in the house and had a party without me. -They had a party without you?
-Yeah. I think it was loneliness. Why didn’t they invite me? And yeah, then I started to feel that fear, has someone come in? Your brain’s going at a hundred miles an hour, the thoughts you can’t control them, you can’t catch them because they’re going so fast. How is it that you ended up on the door step of Julian’s work? Yeah so I drove into town and I called him down. She came into the city with both of our children in the back of the car, came to visit me, I race out of the building and went downstairs to talk to her only said about three or four things to me today they didn’t sound, they were a bit disjointed. And I said, “Are you really working there? Maybe I should go up and have a look.” And what did you think was happening? That he wasn’t working there and that he was working elsewhere. A lot of it I can’t understand and it still irritates me. Why irritate? Because I think why did my mind do that, it failed me. I just drove, I guess I was trying to get away from whatever I was feeling and I was trying to hide what was going on. My mind completely left me and here I was driving in a car with two kids. We had a bluetooth speaker thing in the car for the phone and I remember getting that out of where it was plugged in and putting it in the bin when I got inside ‘cos I thought someone was listening to me and I remember I put it out in the back bin, not even in the house. ‘cos I thought if it’s in the house they’ll hear me. I mean I look back now and that’s really… mad. Probably when I got home, I made a phone call to mum she must of worked out that I was not right. And I picked my keys, I went outside and the ambulance had come and parked across the front of my car. And they got out, and I quickly thought “Okay, how am I going to get out of this one?” So I need to tell them that I’m okay. That I’m competent, that I’ve got a brain. So I started thinking what can I tell them you know, they’ve never met me before. What can I say to them that makes me look normal? I said, I go to playgroup. That’s all I had. I said, I go to playgroup, I’m fine, I’m absolutely fine. I had one child here, one child there. I can just remember pleading with him Please I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go. Please I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go. Yes you are, yes you are. So I got in with Liam and Charlotte, and off we went. If somebody doesn’t know what it means to be scheduled how do you go about describing it? What does it actually mean? So you have no option but to be put into hospital. So it’s what we used to call being committed. Yeah. When did you realise that is what was happening to you? So the doctor had admitted me I asked if I could go home and just come back during the day. And he said no. And that’s when the security guards appeared. And that’s when I thought, “My God, this is really quite big.” So when were you separated from the kids? Last time I saw them was when the security guards walked me through the emergency. I was still buzzing, thoughts. Voices in my head. Still trying to grapple with what had happened. And I just thought, where are they taking me? Why? What was wrong with me? Amanda’s story is incredibly common. Some frank kind of symptom comes out where people kind of realise that the woman is having a psychotic reaction. And then they are scheduled or committed into the public psychiatric unit without their babies. That works out about 600 women in Australia every year will experience postnatal psychosis. Which is quite a lot. When you consider that perhaps other conditions may only have 100 to 150 cases every year. And everybody knows about them. But no one knows about postnatal psychosis. There are already all these pressures of being a new parent. Often for the first time, which are life changing and often quite shocking to the system. And then on top of that you add the stigma of mental illness. That’s right. And not even knowing what you’re going through as well. There’s something that just sounds quite cruel about that, that cocktail of things going on in your life. And because postnatal psychosis is not out in the open it’s sort of brushes under the carpet women don’t know what’s hit them. From what I’ve heard sometimes there’s a bit of caution about putting postnatal psychosis out there. They say they don’t want to scare women. But the thing is women who experience this are incredibly scared and they’re not getting the help they need. So it becomes a terrifying experience. I went home after those five days. And thought that was the end of it. I told my mum, she wasn’t to tell anyone where I’ve been so I was going to hide that whole five days. Didn’t work out that way. I was away seven times in total. When she scheduled that occurred three or four times out of the seven. The others were voluntary admissions to St John of God He takes over the role of single parent, so he’s working together with mum. He had to explain to his work, so there’s all this stigma going on for both of us. We’re trying to hide what I really had. And a few times he broke down as well and I used to think God don’t you break down because then we’ve got nothing. This isn’t the sort of thing that there’s going to be a magical cure for, is it? No. What is that like, to live with that hanging over a house, a family, a mariage? How do you… approach that in a way that you can kinda get through it day by day? Yeah it’s a good question ‘cos Marc the hardest time for me was the end of 2016, Liam’s birthday was upon us I remember coming home and Liam was concerned mummy wasn’t going to be home for his birthday. Charlotte was upset as she had been many times. Poor Charlotte. “What’s wrong with mum, why is she not home?” But both of them cried themselves to sleep that night and I was a mess It was one of the worst night’s I’ve had. I get angry and when I look back at photos I think, “I missed out on that.” I was battling to keep myself well, battling. Sometimes Liam would say, “What was the first word I said?” And I can’t remember. What has this whole chapter of your life done to your ability to trust people? That’s a good question. I had to talk to a mental healthcare practitioner recently and I said something about killing or suicide and I said “Don’t worry it’s okay, I’m mentally well.” So there’s this, always reassuring where I feel like I’m in a situation where there’s someone of authority, medical authority that I’ve got to say I’m actually alright. Don’t ring them. Don’t ring anyone. -It’s that thin layer of fear that runs through
-Thin layer of fear. Yeah because I think they’ll lock me away again. You went from telling your mum to keep it a secret, To sitting here To sitting here in front of some cameras and talking about it. Why? Why is it important to you to talk about this now? Because it’s not very comfortable for me. And I want to maybe make someone else more comfortable. That you might get help before hand, before it gets… to the stage that I did where I needed emergency care. Look after your mental health. Don’t ever be embarrassed to talk about depression or anxiety. Or psychosis. We do need to have a mother baby unit. That’s probably the most important thing that we can do, is have a publicly funded mother baby unit in NSW. Yeah, so this letter is asking for support for more public mother and baby beds. Because there are no publicly funded mother baby beds in New South Wales. It’s this really inconsistent treatment pattern across the country that really needs to change. Where we really do need to have mother baby units. Because it means that a mother can go in, have the treatment for their psychotic illness and remain with their baby. I would’ve been able to care for him, it would have been a better scenario for me. And have nursing staff around them, who are trained in ways of keeping the mother bonded with the baby so that the bond remains.

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