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Postpartum psychosis

Mental health

At a glance

The neurological basis of postpartum psychosis

Lead researcher

Dr Paola Dazzan

Institution

King's College London

Status

Completed

Amount awarded

£297,551

Last updated

08/01/20

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This project will examine the causes of postpartum psychosis by studying the biological changes that happen in pregnancy and after childbirth.

Postpartum or puerperal psychosis (PP) is a term that covers a group of mental illnesses in which symptoms of psychosis suddenly occur following childbirth. These include decreased need for sleep, talkativeness, disorganised speech, irritability, confusion, hearing voices, and unusual beliefs and behaviours.

PP is the most severe psychiatric disorder associated with childbirth, and often carries serious risks for both mother and child. It is already known that some women are at high risk of developing PP after giving birth: for example women who suffer from bipolar or schizoaffective disorder, or those who have had a previous episode of PP. Yet, it is currently not possible to predict in advance who will develop an episode. The only way to further knowledge about the causes of PP is by studying the biological changes that happen in pregnancy and after childbirth in those women at high risk who go on to develop PP.

Dr Dazzan's study will assess multiple biological systems relevant to psychosis: brain structure and function, processing of emotions, stress hormones and immune response. The findings will advance our understanding of what underlies PP and makes some women more at risk, and provide results that could help with targeted treatments and psychological interventions for women who are most vulnerable.

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