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Claire Hills was used to living life at full pace. Soon after the birth of her daughter Quynn in 2018, it took a frightening turn.
Claire was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, a severe mental illness which can occur after having a baby. 'The term psychosis wasn't something I'd even heard of', she explains. 'When I started to present in the way that I did, my family didn't know what this was and what I was experiencing and it was massively scary, and I think more so for the people that were around me.'
Claire was admitted to a specialist mother and baby unit in Morpeth where her treatment began. She says it was hugely valuable to be with her daughter while she was an inpatient, enabling her to continue the bonding process and look after Quynn day-to-day. At the same time, Claire embarked on treatment and therapy, tailored to her needs, which continued when she went back home to Tyneside.
Claire spoke to ITV Tyne Tees as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. She is keen to underline the value of the specialist treatment she received at a time when, she says, she had 'no hope' in herself as a mother.
Alongside care from the NHS, she drew on peer-to-peer support through the charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis.
'They were my cheerleaders. They kept me going when I thought that I couldn't. It's hope, it's transition, and it's de-stigmatising, making it acceptable and allowed and valid that that's your story and that's what you've gone through and let's embrace it, learn from it and move on.'
The specialist charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), offers information and support for the condition. It says:
Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions and mania
It occurs in one or two individuals in every 1,000 births
It often happens suddenly, among women with no history of psychiatric conditions
It should not be mistaken for a severe form of postnatal depression
Claire argues that while society is now talking more about mental health, the word 'psychosis' still carries a stigma. She hopes to tackle that by telling her story.
During her recovery, Claire says she has regained her zest for life, and 'loves' being a parent.
As Quynn approaches her fourth birthday, Claire and her husband Dwayne are now considering the possibility of having another child.
'I wouldn't be where I am and I wouldn't have the tools of being able to reflect, look at my own behaviours, if I hadn't had those people there. I am so thankful for that because now I have the relationship with Quynn that I feel I deserve.'
Women and families experiencing maternal mental ill health are advised to first contact their GP practice, health visitor or community midwife.