Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing



First Advisor

Ginette G. Ferszt


Postpartum psychosis occurs in approximately two out of every 1000 women after childbirth. Although rare, it is a very serious illness with a potential for suicide and infanticide. The suffering associated with this illness and the effects on the entire family system are severe. Nurses need a comprehensive understanding of this disorder, how women present and experience the illness and the nursing care required to keep women and their newborns safe. They also need to promote early detection to facilitate prompt treatment. To date, there is little research examining the women’s experiences and the nursing care provided to this population.

Two descriptive qualitative studies were completed. One study analyzed internet narratives of ten women with the diagnosis of postpartum psychosis and the other study analyzed ten interviews with psychiatric nurses working on inpatient psychiatric units in Sweden. These two studies and subsequent secondary analyses addressed four research questions.

How do women diagnosed with postpartum psychosis describe their experience?

What are psychiatric nurses’ descriptions of women with postpartum psychosis and what are their responses to these women when caring for them on an inpatient psychiatric unit?

What nursing care strategies are used by nurses in caring for women with postpartum psychosis?

How do psychiatric nurses describe the use of presence when caring for women with PPP?

The women described overwhelming fear, a detachment and inability to care for their babies, delusions and hallucinations, shame and guilt, sleep deprivation, a sense of being controlled, disorganized, confused and paranoia during hospitalization. A number also felt abandoned and discontented with the nursing staff and the nursing care they received. The nurses described a kaleidoscope of symptoms and a range of positive and negative emotional responses they had towards the women. Nursing strategies included satisfying basic needs, keeping the women and babies safe and secure, connecting the women with reality, creating a partnership, teaching the women and their family members, giving hope and facilitating recovery. The nurses described their use of physical presence in great detail and the learning that took place in the context of caring for this population.

Future research studies need to examine the on-going interaction of patients and nurses on inpatient psychiatric units. Nurses and nursing students need education about disease manifestations, women’s experiences, nursing care strategies and ways to address nurses’ own emotional reactions.



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