Catherine Ashmore talks about her experience of returning to work after post-partum psychosis and how the support she received really made a difference.
Catherine Ashmore developed post-partum psychosis after her daughter was born and spent her maternity leave in and out of hospital.
Catherine is a mortgage and protection advisor at Lloyds in Sunderland. She has been with the bank for 14 years, starting as a cashier and working up to her current role which she has been in for eight years.
Her post-partum psychosis first manifested itself in manic behaviour two weeks after her daughter was born in April 2013. She couldn’t sleep, talked really fast, spent a lot of energy on cleaning, was running high temperatures and having grand ideas. She says her thoughts were all jumbled up. Her husband was concerned and spoke to her midwife and she and her daughter were admitted to hospital. She had a high temperature and an infection and doctors were not sure if the infection was linked to the manic behaviour she was showing. Catherine describes having hallucinations in hospital. She says she knew deep down something was not right, but couldn’t take in what the doctors were saying until she fell from the manic phase into depression.
She was eventually discharged from hospital, but a few weeks later asked to go back as her mood dropped and the ensuing depression meant she could not get out of bed. She felt like a terrible mother and as if she did not deserve her daughter. The depression lasted for around six weeks. “I did not anticipate the depression,” she says. “It was the worst experience. I used to think people could shake off depression. Now I know better.”
Catherine was discharged two and a half months later after a series of home visits to build her bond with her daughter. Diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, she didn’t tell anyone except close friends and her line manager Graham when she was ready to return to work at the end of her maternity leave.
She negotiated agile working with Graham and was able to come in later to take into account that her medication made her drowsy first thing. “I had been worrying about bringing it up, but starting half an hour later made all the difference,” she says. She now works three days a week with a half hour lunch break plus alternative Saturdays. Starting at 9.30 instead of 9 means she is able to take her daughter to school.
She says Graham was very supportive. “I rang him just before I came back and he was great. He said he was here if I needed him and we agreed my hours,” says Catherine. Through Lloyds’ employee assistance programme she was able to access five free sessions of counselling. When she went on her second maternity leave two years ago Graham told her to take all the time she needed for hospital appointments and took the pressure off her.
In 2015 Catherine, who volunteers as a Lloyds champion for mental health, took part in a managers conference in Birmingham and spoke about what had happened to her after a call for volunteers to speak about their experience of mental health issues. Just before she had told her colleagues and a couple of months later she wrote an article about it on the intranet. It generated really positive feedback from across Lloyds and encouraged others to share their stories. “People still ask how I am doing,” she says, “but they also ask for my advice. The openness about mental health means you don’t feel alone. Everyone has issues.”
Having now done an NVQ in mental health, Catherine is more knowledgeable about mental illness. She is also more aware of how tiredness can trigger her illness and of when her mood is dropping. Taking exercise, especially long walks, helps and she has been able to come off her medication. She knows too that she can go to Graham and get time off if she needs it, although she has not yet felt the need to take it.
In addition to sharing what happened to her, Catherine has also been involved in preparing training modules on mental health. “I’m so glad I have spoken out about what happened to me. I have nothing to hide,” she says. “I still go to hospital for annual check-ups, but I am very proud of what I have achieved and of being able to continue working. Work is a really important part of mental health.”