by ALISON BRANLEY and SOPHIE SCOTT
More than 600 Australian women each year suffer crippling pregnancy-related psychosis, but many states do not have hospital beds to treat the condition.
An ABC investigation has found some states and territories are poorly resourced when it comes to helping women deal with postpartum psychosis. NSW, Tasmania and the Northern Territory are the worst, with no dedicated public hospital beds for helping new mothers with the debilitating condition.
In other states, advocates say there are few beds and long waits for treatment.
Post-partum psychosis, or puerperal psychosis, is the most extreme form of post-natal depression. It has long been recognised as a condition and affects about one in every 500 mothers. It can develop during pregnancy or in the months following giving birth.
Experts say there are a number of theories about its causes, including genetic predisposition, underlying conditions, hormone changes, sleep cycle interruptions and inflammation. Women who develop the condition often need hospitalising. In those cases, the best option is special care that allows them to bring their baby into hospital so they can continue to bond with the child.
Advocates have used Postnatal Depression Awareness week this week to reissue their call for better treatment services for women and children.
Professor Philip Boyce heads the Perinatal Psychiatry Clinical Research Unit at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital. He said when women developed postpartum psychosis it was a psychiatric emergency and women needed to be admitted to a proper facility.
“[The psychosis] may take a variety of forms; she will often have hallucinations, hearing voices and have false ideas,” Professor Boyce said. “One of the things we do know is that if these women have very strong false beliefs about the baby, they may actually do harm to the baby and that is a terrifying thing for them.”
Professor Boyce said NSW did not have the capability to admit the mother and baby together in a psychiatric facility. He said he had been told it was impossible because of safety and cost, despite other states having beds. There are 12 private hospital beds in NSW but they are only available to those with insurance.
“We would love to be able to treat mother and keep their baby with them so we don’t break up the mother-baby relationship,” Professor Boyce said. “Not to be able to have their baby with them, it can be devastating for women.”