For their Christmas special, Eastender’s focused on character Stacey Branning and her struggle with postpartum psychosis. The storyline ignited awareness and discussion about this rarely talked about condition.
Victoria Pavitt experienced psychosis after the birth of her fourth child. Her first experience happened the day after he was born, when Victoria found herself rooted to the spot at top of her stairs. Even though there were only 15 steps, Victoria says she ‘might as well have been staring down the Grand Canyon.’
“My head was filled with images of falling through the air and letting go of my son – and then seeing his tiny body, broken and bleeding, on the ground.”
Having to shuffle down each step on her bottom, Victoria was suffering from postpartum psychosis. While the condition is less common than post-natal depression, affecting one in 1,000 mothers, it is considered more severe.
The illness is thought to be triggered by the sudden drop in hormones mothers experience after giving birth. The symptoms (which include hallucinations, confusion and manic behaviour) can appear with no warning and can put the mother in danger of harming herself or her child. Because of this risk, postpartum psychosis is classed a ‘psychiatric emergency’ by the NHS.
Victoria hadn’t suffered from any problems like this before and hadn’t experienced symptoms after the births of her previous three children. This is the case for over 50% of mothers affected.
As time went on, Victoria’s condition worsened as she became overwhelmed by intrusive and violent thoughts.
“The terrors got worse at night. I was so worried he’d die that I slept on the floor next to him to check he did not stop breathing. But when I closed my eyes I saw his gravestone.”
Fearing that her son would be taken away from her, Victoria hid her state of mind during postnatal check-ups. Soon her hair started falling out, her weight plummeted and she began to suffer from panic attacks. At this point, she had no choice but to seek help.
Her GP prescribed a mixture of medication, including sleeping tablets to help her sleep and antidepressants to rebalance the chemicals in her brain. Trial and error led to the right combination of medication, allowing Victoria to regain control.
After 18 months, Victoria was able to come off medication. Speaking about her illness, she says it is essential that it be seen as an issue of its own rather than being placed under the umbrella of post-natal depression.
“Now we can talk about it, no new mother should ever have to feel alone with this again.”