Postpartum psychosis 'like living in hell,' says Northern Ireland mum in call for special unit

A group of mums who experienced postpartum psychosis, a serious mental illness after birth, are demanding the health minister sets up a specialist mother and baby unit in Northern Ireland before some one else loses their life.

A rally was held on Monday outside the Department of Health at Castle Buildings Stormont and a letter has been handed over to Robin Swann.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without such a unit.

Orlaith Quinn died after taking her own life at the Royal Victoria Hospital in 2018, days after giving birth to her third child.

An inquest in May found the 33-year-old's death was both 'foreseeable and preventable'. The coroner also called for a MBU to be established here.

Emma Hickman who is bipolar experienced the serious mental illness following the birth of her fourth child in 2016.

The mum from Antrim was admitted to a psychiatric ward in Holywell in Antrim with postpartum psychosis.

Emma was separated from her baby who was only seven months.

She told UTV: "It was like living in hell, an absolute nightmare, a waking nightmare that you couldn't get out of.

"I was worried because I thought somebody was going to come into my home. I was scared of strangers and I couldn't sleep. I hadn't slept for five days".

Emma spent seven days in the psychiatric ward but she discharged herself because she couldn't bear to be apart from her baby and children. She recovered at home but didn't feel safe.

She added: "When I left the psychiatric unit I was still very unwell and during that time I couldn't be left alone.

"I was overwhelmed with anxiety and I was afraid to be left alone with my children. I just wish if there had of been a mother and baby unit here it would've been so different because I would've got the right support and I would've been able to have my son with me.

"The fact we don't have a mother and baby unit is just ridiculous."

Around 1,000 women each year in Northern Ireland will develop a severe postnatal illness.

The charity, Action on Postpartum Psychosis estimates that 35 women in NI will develop the serious mental illness each year.

While women with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop postpartum psychosis, 50% of cases are ‘out of the blue’, to women who have experienced no previous mental health problems. 

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that doesn’t have a mother and baby unit, which provides specialist inpatient care for mums experiencing severe postnatal illness and their babies.

Instead mothers are admitted to general acute psychiatric wards for non-specialist treatment, separating them from babies.

The group says it is essential Health Minister Robin Swann prioritises the development of the unit.

Around 40 charities and organisations and 5,000 members of the public have signed a petition calling for the urgent development of a new unit.

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