ACT News

Canberra mum opens up about postnatal mental illness

A Canberra mother who suffered terrifying psychotic episodes after the birth of her daughter has shared her mental health story to let other new mums know there is help available. 

Alexandra Jones, 34, suffered from a rare but severe mental health disorder known as postpartum psychosis after the birth of her daughter Holly, now six.

Alexandra Jones and Kelvin Jones have shared  their experiences of post-partum psychosis ahead of Mental Health Day on ...
Alexandra Jones and Kelvin Jones have shared their experiences of post-partum psychosis ahead of Mental Health Day on Friday. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The condition is experienced by one or two in 1000 women in the weeks after having a baby. 

"A few days after her birth, I started to feel on a bit of a high ... and I became increasingly manic," Mrs Jones said. 

"I saw my GP and he said it's not abnormal to have emotional fluctuations after birth. Normally you have the baby blues but I was experiencing what is called the pinks, which is this very high, elevated mood ... happy, chatty, productive.

"That's what makes it really tricky to diagnose because people think you're doing really well and nobody is looking for those symptoms."

Mrs Jones said Holly stayed in the special care nursery for about 10 days after she was born, and it was after bringing her home that things began to "go downhill rapidly".

Her husband Kelvin said they thought his wife's behaviour was due to being a new mum and a lack of sleep.

"I became increasingly suspicious about people and what they were saying to me," she said, admitting she also started feeling suicidal. 

Although Mrs Jones attempted to mask her condition when she was seen by the Crisis Assessment and Treatment team, who visited her a few times, she was eventually admitted to hospital.

She received treatment for several weeks but still faced a long road to recovery, during which she worked with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services' Perinatal Mental Health Consultation Service.

Cathy Ringland, the perinatal team leader, said the service offered specialist consultation opinion for perinatal women with moderate to severe mental health issues.

"Women who are either antenatal or postnatal, and more and more we're doing preconception planning for women with existing mental health issues," she said. 

Mrs Ringland encouraged new mothers who may be having difficulty to seek help.

"See a GP, talk to somebody, tell them that things aren't right. Talk about it and don't stay silent," she said. 

The service also helped Mrs Jones, who had a 50 per cent chance of relapse if she had another baby, with preparing and planning when she had her second child, William. She believes the preconception planning was what helped keep her from a relapse.

Speaking ahead of World Mental Health Day on Friday, Mrs Jones said she felt it was important to help improve education, treatment and support for women with postpartum psychosis, because it includes a small but significant risk of suicide and infanticide.

She and her husband were both keen to raise awareness and encourage women and their partners to seek help at the first sign something might be wrong. 

"Early and accurate identification and treatment of postpartum psychosis are crucial for a good outcome," she said. 

She said perinatal support services were crucial because they helped women at a time when they were most vulnerable psychologically – they were more likely to be admitted to a psychiatric  unit after giving birth than any other time in their lives.

Readers needing support should contact Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

For more information about postnatal depression or support, contact Pandsi on 02 6288 1936. The PMHCS can be contacted on 02 6205 1469.