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Ipswich mum washed hands 70 times a day during battle with postpartum psychosis

PUBLISHED: 18:59 09 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:09 16 March 2020

Sarah Snelling is training to become a peer support volunteer for Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity. Sarah has been through this herself and now wants to help others. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Sarah Snelling is training to become a peer support volunteer for Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity. Sarah has been through this herself and now wants to help others. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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An Ipswich mother who was suicidal and used to scrub her hands more than 70 times a day says her “children are her motivation” as she speaks out about her battle with postpartum psychosis and schizophrenia.

Sarah Snelling is training to become a peer support volunteer for Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity. Sarah has been through this herself and now wants to help others. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSarah Snelling is training to become a peer support volunteer for Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity. Sarah has been through this herself and now wants to help others. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Sarah Snelling, 29, was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis – a rare but serious mental health illness diagnosed in new mums – after the birth of her youngest daughter in 2018.

Despite having no complications with her pregnancy, the mother-of-two became unwell shortly after returning home from hospital, suffering hallucinations and “basically losing her mind”.

“I didn’t know what day of the week it was, I couldn’t remember my girls’ birthdays, I felt like I was on drugs and I was suicidal,” admitted Sarah, who was sectioned by a psychiatrist at Woodlands mental health clinic and transferred to the nearest mother and baby unit in Chelmsford.

‘I thought armed police were surrounding my flat’

Sarah said she became completely paranoid, feeling like she had to clean her hands constantly otherwise something bad would happen to her children.

She said: “I had got it in my head that the water supply to my house had been tampered with and to me it was all so real. I even thought armed police were surrounding my flat at one point.”

Sarah said she found it difficult to deal with the voices in her head and despite never being a drinker or drug-user, it felt as though her “coffee had been spiked”.

She was always concerned for her children’s safety and worried that they would be kidnapped, admitting it was “a really scary time” for her whole family.

Sarah Snelling is training to become a peer support volunteer for Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity. Sarah has been through this herself and now wants to help others. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSarah Snelling is training to become a peer support volunteer for Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity. Sarah has been through this herself and now wants to help others. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Being a mum again

After spending seven weeks at the unit – doing cognitive behavioural therapy, taking antidepressants, antipsychotic medication and doing yoga – Sarah was discharged and weaned off her tablets, returning to her everyday life.

She says her children were the reason she got out of hospital so quickly, as she wanted to get back and be their mum again.

In January this year Sarah relapsed and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. This time doctors said her illness was not related to being a new mum – but instead was much worse and she was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

Sarah Snelling is training to become a peer support volunteer for Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity. Sarah has been through this herself and now wants to help others. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSarah Snelling is training to become a peer support volunteer for Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity. Sarah has been through this herself and now wants to help others. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Diagnosis ‘a relief’

“I often smell plastic burning,” said Sarah. “But now I know it’s all in my head and I can control it with medication.”

Sarah, who previously worked as a customer service advisor, says the diagnosis is “a relief, but still a big shock”.

Now, Sarah is back home and hopes to become a peer support worker for the Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity – which relies on lottery funding.

Sarah says she had no idea postpartum psychosis even existed until her diagnosis and wants to raise awareness of the condition and ensure other people aren’t ashamed to speak out.

The future is bright

“I do suffer from schizophrenia, but it doesn’t define me it just makes me who I am,” said Sarah, who is currently unable to drive due to her medication making her drowsy.

“I’ve got lots of energy and I do have the odd voice here and there, telling me I’m a rubbish mum. But my children are my motivation.”

For Sarah the future is bright – and she can’t thank her friends, family and the NHS enough.

She said: “Everyone has been amazing, especially the girls’ fathers, my family and friends, the Treehouse Nursery in Clapgate Lane and the Ravenswood children’s centre.

“It’s definitely made me a stronger person and a better mum, but I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.”

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