Research is a Catalyst for Change
My name is Kristina Dulaney and I am ecstatic to be a Patient Expert Advisor with the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative. My background is in nursing and yet I had little education surrounding maternal mental health. When it came to my own mental health after the birth of my children, I lacked understanding and knowledge. Despite having a nurse come to my house twice after both of my girls I was not screened. Again I wasn’t screened at my 6-week follow-up appointments, or at multiple pediatric visits. If I had known then what I know now, I’m sure my behavior would have tipped someone off as to the state of my mental health.
Experience with Postpartum Psychosis
I had a face-to-face encounter with the one of the most severe perinatal mood disorders – Postpartum Psychosis. I spent 2 weeks on a general psychiatric unit with a sitter at my side the entire time. Fortunately I had the support of my husband, family, close friends, and prayers of many to get me through one of the toughest battles I’ve ever endured. The psychiatric unit was one of the scariest places I’ve ever been… I literally thought it was hell on earth.
Psychosis detaches you from reality and your mind plays games. At one time I remember thinking I was on the set of Grey’s Anatomy starring Bradley Cooper – which doesn’t sound too bad – but it wasn’t real. I couldn’t go far from the sitter’s sight and reach at all times. I couldn’t leave the unit and was forced to eat in my room. Nearly my entire hospitalization was spent indoors. When I did return home I was fairly weak because of the lack of exercise. I don’t remember all of my hospitalization as my mind was so far from reality; my paranoia at an all-time high. My treatment was a mix of anti-psychotics , anti-depressants and an occasional injection when I was agitated or paranoid.
Discharge and the Long Road to Recovery
Postpartum Psychosis isn’t something that you can just easily walk away from. Despite the experience in the hospital, little did I know that the really hard work was just beginning when I got home. It wasn’t easy being told all the things I couldn’t do (drive, watch my kids alone, work…). To make things even more difficult I had to have someone with me at all times. I did everything the doctors wanted me to do, but I also took liberties and tried to have some control. I took the medications that I hated – though some days they didn’t think I was taking them. My husband literally had to watch me swallow them as evidence of compliance.
At one point, I had finally had enough and tried to jump out of my husband’s truck. After this incident I agreed to go to a behavioral health unit for evaluation but was sent home. At this point the knives in my house were taken away and put in a safe place. When I cooked and needed one, I had to ask permission. Part of my treatment included intensive outpatient therapy, which was 3 hours of group therapy each day. These meetings were exhausting. After about two and a half weeks in group therapy I then began individual therapy. Slowly I was able to return to work and even gained clearance to return full-time after about 6 months. Looking back I know why all of these things were necessary – for my safety and for my successful recovery from postpartum psychosis.
Specialized Intensive Programs
I wish there was better access to specialized intensive programs for postpartum moms, and that is what research and implementation is for. Physicians depend on research and initiatives to make changes and it’s why I’m here; to be an advocate for those without a voice. Especially those moms who experience something like psychosis and are left feeling alone and isolated.
My family and I moved to a different state about 8 months after my crisis, and I had to navigate to a whole new mental health system. It was in this experience of moving that I really began to see how broken the mental health system is. A therapist I saw didn’t even know what postpartum psychosis was! Here I was the one educating her on it. Postpartum moms deserve more than what they’re getting, and research is where it begins. It’s time for a change. A movement towards a more positive outlook and support system for postpartum moms, their families, and loved ones.