Interview with Dyane Harwood, Author, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder

Post Hill Press @2017

Post Hill Press @2017

1.      Dyane, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in the beautiful town of Pacific Palisades, Southern California that bordered the Pacific Ocean, hence the name. My younger brother and I had two very loving parents and we had many blessings; however, I had a difficult childhood as our father had bipolar one disorder and his mental illness took an enormous toll upon our family. I attended college at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which was located almost four hundred miles north of my hometown. Santa Cruz was also right to the Pacific Ocean and I lived there for many years. I still live in Santa Cruz County, but I moved to the redwood forest up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here we have a variety of wildlife: deer, bobcats, mountain lions and the infamous neon yellow banana slug!

2.      Why did you decide to write the book?

After I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder in 2007, I read books about other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, but I couldn’t find any book that focused on postpartum bipolar disorder. Before my diagnosis I had been a freelance writer for ten years.  I felt I had something important to contribute to the bipolar and perinatal mental health literature and that fueled my writing, especially during the many times I wanted to give up the project.

 3.      As the author of, A Mother’s Climb Out of Darkness: A Story about Overcoming Postpartum Psychosis, I know first-hand the challenges of sharing your story in a book, what did you find most challenging in your book writing process?

Due to numerous bipolar depression relapses, it took me a long time to write the book proposal, the manuscript, and go through the publication process – ten years total. I know some people doubted I’d ever finish the book, including myself, so it was nothing short of a miracle to hold my book in my hands last month. In some ways it was like holding a baby, but the book lets me sleep at night!

 4.      I recall you were able to reach out for help fairly quickly in the postpartum period but during your pregnancies did anyone ever present to you the risks or general information on any of the perinatal mood & anxiety disorders?

Unfortunately, no medical professional explained the risks or gave me information about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. I was never asked to provide my own mental health history or a family mental health history to anyone.  Had there been even the most rudimentary mental health screening done during my pregnancy, it’s possible a lot of my agony and my family’s suffering could’ve been mitigated. Thankfully maternal mental health screening is far more prevalent now, and there’s a much greater awareness of PMADS and the need for screening. I think screening and awareness will improve much more over the next decade.

 5.      In your book, you mention starting a support group for moms with bipolar disorder.  Can you explain a little more about that process (i.e. easy process; how it benefited you, attendees)?  Do you continue to facilitate a support group today or are there any other support groups specifically for moms with bipolar disorder?

In my book’s appendix, I have a section that takes the reader through the steps to create, promote, and lead a support group. Participating in support groups helped me because I felt less alone with my mental illness. I even made two friends who helped me through some very tough times. The other attendees often said that being around other women who dealt with mood swings, medication, anxiety, PTSD and more helped them too. Some of them became friends with other members and socialized together. After facilitating support groups off and on over nine years, I decided to stop being the facilitator and focus on completing my book. I’d love to attend a support group as a member, not as a facilitator.

There are support groups for moms with bipolar disorder across the country through Meetup for in-person support groups and online (i.e. Facebook) and I’m sure there are specific groups for moms in some chapters of the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). One would need to check in her immediate area by doing online Meetup searches, calling the local NAMI Chapter and/or DBSA Chapter, and search elsewhere online such as Craigslist for specific leads.

6.      Anything else you would like to share with others?

I want to remind everyone that no matter how horrible you feel, your mood can get better.  For years I couldn’t imagine that my awful bipolar depression would ever lift, but it finally did go away with the help of a caring psychiatrist. Find or ask a loved one to help you find a professional who is on your side. This is a momentous task, but there’s a sea change going on in the psychiatric field. More compassionate, progressive doctors are becoming psychiatrists. If you’re unable or unwilling to see a psychiatrist, talk to a trusted physician or psychologist or therapist. Don’t keep your suffering to yourself. Please ask for help because you deserve to have support and effective treatment in your life.

Thank you, Dyane, for sharing such a difficult journey.  Your book helps readers understand postpartum bipolar disorder, especially bipolar depression, in a way that has not been done before.

To reach Dyane, learn more about her or her book, see below

Twitter: @DyaneHarwood




Birth of a New Brian – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder
Amazon link:

Facebook Author page:

International Bipolar Foundation “Psych Byte” Webinar: Postpartum Bipolar Disorder: The Invisible Postpartum  Mood Disorder:

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Event Held in Mary Esther, Florida

The Perinatal Mental Health Task Force of the Emerald Coast hosted a screening of the movie documentary, Dark Side of the Full Moon, at the UA Santa Rosa Theater in Mary Esther, Florida, on Tuesday, May 31st at 6:30 pm. 

Audience watching the movie

Audience watching the movie

The feature-length documentary depicted the stories of several moms, who experienced maternal mental health complications.  Maternal mental illness is one of the most common complications of childbirth affecting more than 1.3 million mothers each year in the United States.  The film addressed the failures of the mental health system, the lack of maternal mental health training of providers as well the fact that screening of moms for depression and anxiety is not the norm.

A viewer of the film, Marcia Baris-Sanders, said “the film was eye-opening, informative and inspiring.” The film discusses the demands placed on mothers today and the lack of support available and David, another viewer of the film, said “It’s sad realizing that our society treats motherhood as a hobby.”  Jodi, a local mom, who personally experienced mental health complications after her second child, says “The film was excellent, a true must see if you are a mother, thinking of becoming a mother, or have had a mother.”

Panel Members

Panel Members

After the movie, there was a thought-provoking Q&A discussion with a distinguished panel.  Panel members included Dr. Lynn Keefe, a pediatrician from Niceville, Susan Michaels, a Healthy Start Nurse from Santa Rosa County, Don Harrison, a licensed Mental Health Counselor and current President of NAMI Emerald Coast (the local chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness), Carolyn Ketchel, a social worker and Okaloosa County Commissioner, and Jennifer Moyer, a mental health advocate and author of the book, A Mother’s Climb Out of Darkness: A Story About Overcoming Postpartum PsychosisThe issues discussed included the need for additional mental health services in the community as well as the importance of moms receiving empathetic and understanding help and support when faced with a mental health complication related to childbearing.

The event was also a fundraiser for the Emerald Coast chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).  According to Don Harrison, President of NAMI Emerald Coast, “NAMI, as the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, is dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.  Bringing awareness about mental health issues such as Perinatal Mental Health helps reduce stigma, and promotes the development of services in areas that may be lacking in our community.  In addition to events like this, NAMI offers support groups and classes for persons affected by mental health issues including their families.  You can find out more by contacting NAMI.   Here is link to find your local NAMI:


From Crisis to Contribution

It is hard to believe that it is over 20 years since my perinatal mental health crisis began.  My life forever changed back in early 1996 when I was struck with postpartum psychosis.  Not only did my life change but so did the lives of my family members.  My experience has brought an understanding of mental health related to childbearing that I would not have otherwise.  I am truly blessed to have been able to turn such a horrific experience into a way to give back and contribute to making changes in a positive way.

Back in November 2015, I had the opportunity to speak before house and senate committees in the state in which I reside.  My goal was to get the attention of lawmakers so they would recognize the importance of addressing perinatal mental health.  It was a new experience for me but I knew it was time to share a piece of my story with the legislators.  I believe it opened the door for the discussion and enabled some of my fellow perinatal mental health advocates to make strides as well.  A proclamation was submitted back in March to our Governor to make May Perinatal Mental Health Awareness month.  Although still waiting a decision, our state's perinatal mental health advocates are hopeful that it will be signed by the Governor. 

Regardless of the outcome, the perinatal mental health advocates in my state will continue efforts to increase awareness and change outcomes in the area of mental health related to childbearing.  I am honored to be a part of the movement.

We Can't Forget About Postpartum Psychosis When Talking About PPD

"Pregnant Woman" By duron123

"Pregnant Woman" By duron123

There has been much attention given to postpartum depression recently since the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force is now recommending screening of all pregnant women for postpartum depression both prenatally and postpartum.  This is great news and a great stride in bringing much needed attention to an under-addressed public health crisis.  That being said, when the general term of postpartum depression (PPD) is used, it can be misleading and the spectrum of perinatal mood & anxiety disorders can be overlooked.

Although postpartum psychosis may be considered a rare perinatal mood & anxiety disorder, it affects many women and families worldwide.  More awareness, education and research are needed in the area of postpartum psychosis as well as properly identifying and diagnosis the illness.  As things move forward in addressing the public health crisis of perinatal mental health, it is important that postpartum psychosis not be forgotten. 

Of course, many of you know that my efforts are to increase the awareness and understanding of postpartum psychosis.  I know many others are striving to do the same.  Some of us are already joining each other in our efforts.  If any others are interested in getting more involved in addressing postpartum psychosis, particularly in the United States, please let me know. 

I know the year 2016 is going to be a good year in moving forward in addressing perinatal mental health.




Maternal Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System

        "The Law Book With Gravel" by cooldesign

        "The Law Book With Gravel" by cooldesign

Postpartum Support International will be presenting a program titled Maternal Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System on October 23, 2015 in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey. 

While many other countries have laws in place recognizing the existence of perinatal mood & anxiety disorders and their relevance in rare cases of a mother harming her child(ren), the US legal system does not yet have an understanding of these illnesses.  This program is a step towards bringing better understanding. 

I encourage attendance of this very important educational seminar for anyone involved in the legal system or anyone interested in learning more about maternal mental illness and the criminal justice system.   I have included more information and the link for registration below.

Maternal Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System
October 23, 2015

41 Ridgedale Avenue, Cedar Knolls NJ 07927   
Presented by Postpartum Support International

Thurs Oct 22, 7:00pm -- Dinner and Remarks by George Parnham, JD

Fri Oct 23, 8:30-5:00 -- Maternal Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System

Postpartum Support International presents “Maternal Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System” in Cedar Knolls New Jersey on Friday October 23.

Attorney George Parnham,  Psychiatrist Margaret Spinelli, MD, and an expert team of faculty present this premier seminar designed for professionals interested in the defense and treatment of women accused of crimes that occurred during a postpartum psychiatric mental illness.

Please join us Thursday night to enjoy remarks by George Parnham, JD and a spectacular dinner by H2Ocean Restaurant, hosted by owners Michael & Sylvia Frodella.

Link to registration