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EastEnders & my postpartum psychosis

Monday, 11 January 2016 Kathryn Grant

Kathryn blogs on her experience of postpartum psychosis and Lacey Turner's portrayal on EastEnders that she advised on.

Kathryn survived postpartum psychosis back in 2012 and now writes, campaigns and speaks out on perinatal mental health issues.

*** WARNING! May contain EastEnders' spoilers***

For the last few months I have been working with the major BBC soap opera EastEnders on a postpartum psychosis storyline for the character Stacey. Myself and my good friend Eve Canavan (blogger extraordinaire, comedienne, advocate, campaigner and all-around Wonder Woman) were engaged by Mind to help them consult on this extensive story.

"I've been incredibly moved by how they are tackling it: with care, sensitivity, and realism."

Essentially, the character Stacey (who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in previous 2009 episodes) is having a baby and will go on to experience acute postpartum psychosis.

" doesn't get better over night."

When I first heard that EastEnders was tackling this subject, I thought "oh god, here we go, another sensationalised portrayal of a psychopathic baby killer". 

"The anxieties most new mums feel...are ramped up in a postpartum psychosis sufferer."

But no. I've been incredibly moved by how they are tackling it: with care, sensitivity, and realism. Stacey, like so many other women (some with bipolar, but many with absolutely no history of previous mental illness), battles the psychosis at first at home, before having to navigate the complex and winding path of NHS mental health services. Her family have to come to terms with her illness, when at first (just like my own shell shocked family) they were reluctant to accept the gravity of the situation.

And it doesn't get better over night. Stacey's illness and eventual recovery will take place over many weeks and months. This is the reality I faced: my psychosis lasted around four weeks, but it took as many months for my brain to be functioning "normally" again.

"...the tenacity of her nearest and dearest will be critical to her finally getting the care she needs."

Throughout the worse of Stacey's illness, her main concern is for her beautiful baby. Rather than wanting to hurt the baby, she is trying to protect them from the grotesque harms she is hallucinating and the cruel fates she is deluding herself with. This, again, is very typical. The anxieties that most new mums feel when their precious bundle is finally in their arms are ramped up in a postpartum psychosis sufferer, to the extent that their anxiety becomes pure panic over things that just aren't real. This was my experience, and it will be Stacey's too.

Stacey has already experienced a wide range of NHS services. And the level of care and support she has received has varied widely. Again - this is typical. I know I was lucky - as I have said many times over the subsequent years, the severity and quick onset of my psychosis meant there was little question over me being admitted to a specialist psychiatric ward. Stacey will not have such an "easy" path to follow, but the tenacity of her nearest and dearest will be critical to her finally getting the care she needs. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, but needless to say it is an absolutely brutal and real and emotional storyline.

Eve and I have read many of the scripts concerned. The dialogue and stage directions are spot-on. Often we have been left reeling, just by reading a page, and watching it has been no different.

So please do keep tuned as it keeps unfolding. Let me know your thoughts and concerns, and let's get perinatal mental illness out of the shadows and into public consciousness! 

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