Belfast mum runs marathon to highlight hope of recovery after postpartum psychosis

Posted By: Amy Tubb

6th May 2024

  • Fundraising
  • MMHA news

5 minute read

Alex Bartholomew gave birth to her second child, a son, in 2018. By all accounts, things were going well, until Alex suffered an acute mental health crisis when her baby was three months old.

She says, ‘I was an experienced mum, and by all accounts things were going well. In fact, in the ‘little red book’, our health visitor had just written a really positive report about how we were doing; baby was putting on weight and growing after all. Days later I began acting strangely and feeling very anxious and paranoid. My husband and I reached out for help knowing something was off but no one could pinpoint exactly what was going on. What we learned much later was that I was experiencing psychosis.’

Alex says that within one week of the health visitor’s report, she was admitted to a general psychiatric unit.

When I was admitted, I was completely separated from my children and husband with no idea when I’d see them again. It was sudden, debilitating, and it has taken years for our whole family to recover from the trauma.

Alex Bartholomew, Mum of two and postpartum psychosis survivor

The separation of the family was particularly difficult: ‘I not only had to recover from the psychosis itself but from the experience of being admitted and suddenly separated from my baby,’ Alex says. ‘The illness made me anxious and paranoid about danger coming to my little one, and when I was actually separated from my family this certainly exacerbated the experience of psychosis and made things worse. We all knew I needed medical support, but a general psychiatric unit is no place for a mother suffering postpartum psychosis. Having no access to your children while you are recovering is more like a cruel form of punishment than a therapeutic intervention.’

Up to one in five women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby. These mental health conditions can include serious mental illness such as postpartum psychosis which affects approximately one in a thousand mothers, OCD, ante-and-postnatal depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD.

Despite this significant challenge, Alex began to improve about a week after her admission, responding well to medication. Alex credits the psychiatric consultant in charge of her care: ‘I was lucky enough to be under the care of a consultant who specialised in Perinatal Mental Health. She helped me understand what happened and I had a wonderful mental health nurse who knew exactly what to say to give me hope. When I was discharged, I saw the same supportive consultant regularly at a clinic for about two years, after which I was finally discharged from the community clinic and free from the heavy antipsychotic medication.’

Since her discharge, Alex’s mental health has gone from strength to strength. She credits her continued improvement to counselling and has worked hard to improve both her physical and mental health, which included taking up running again. Alex has participated in several races, though none as big as a marathon until now. ‘Every running race I sign up to is a reminder of how far I’ve come since that day when I was admitted to hospital. It’s another step along the journey of healing and towards wholeness. And it’s a celebration of the fact that I survived. Many mums unfortunately don’t and, tragically, suicide is still the leading cause of maternal death in the first postnatal year.’

Alex plans to take on her biggest running challenge yet this weekend, at the Belfast Marathon.

The marathon seems like the ultimate race in many ways and it’s just such a good opportunity to join with other people from all walks of life and remember our shared humanity. We all have tough times, but the human spirit is amazing at overcoming hard things. You don’t get many chances to gather with strangers and do something momentous together.


Having experienced the power of counselling and community support to overcome mental health challenges Alex has since become a qualified counsellor. She says, ‘As I took hold of my own recovery and began to thrive again, I became more interested in mental health and I was inspired to go on a journey to understand how I could help others bring about positive emotional change through counselling. I studied to become a qualified Integrative Counsellor and now I help others who are suffering with their own mental and emotional issues.’

Alex is passionate about campaigning to make the experience of other mums a better one than she had, particularly around the introduction of a Mother and Baby Unit in Northern Ireland. There is no Mother and Baby Unit in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland; while there are 22 throughout the rest of the UK. Research carried out by Action on Postpartum Psychosis highlights why this is important: women admitted to a MBU report better care and outcomes than those who receive care in a GPU.

Alex says, ‘We need progress on the work towards a Mother and Baby Unit in Northern Ireland. I can’t emphasise enough what a difference it would have made for me and for the whole family to have been treated as a new mother suffering a postpartum psychosis and not in a general psychiatric unit. Because of the lack of facilities in Northern Ireland, I couldn’t continue to breastfeed; my three month old son had to be weaned overnight by friends and family; and crucially, my family was separated indefinitely and without warning. This not only impacted me but had created separation anxiety issues for my very young daughter, who began having night terrors shortly after I was admitted and has also attended therapy since. A general psychiatric ward is not fit for purpose in treating mothers and supporting families affected by mental ill health, it really did exacerbate the trauma of the whole experience.’

Rhonda Murphy, Head of Support Services at Aware NI and Campaign Coordinator for the MMHA, adds: ‘Campaigning for a MBU for Northern Ireland has been ongoing for over 20 years, yet still, NI remains the only UK nation not to have a mother and baby unit for women facing the most severe maternal mental health conditions. On behalf of our women, babies and children funding needs to be prioritised and secured without any further delay.’

We also absolutely need new and expectant mums’ mental health to be valued as much as their physical health - this means making sure that their mental health is sensitively discussed at every contact they have with a health professional.


Alex Bartholomew now offers counselling support to a range of clients on a number of mental health issues and you can find her on LinkedIn.

More information

Notes to editors

Alex is available for interview. Please contact

Further information on MBUs: 

• There are 22 MBU’s in the UK 

• 19 in England 

• First MBU in England was in 1958 

• First in Scotland was in 2004 (now have two) 

• Wales MBU opened in 2021 (and second underway) 

• No MBU in ROI either 

Further information on Action on Postpartum Psychosis’ report:  

  • Research carried out by Action on Postpartum Psychosis in 2010 and 2021 results: 
  • Overall, women who experienced PP in the UK report better care and outcomes in 2021 compared to 2010. A higher proportion are admitted to specialist MBUs. 
  • Women admitted to MBU report better care and outcomes than those who receive care in a GPU in both 2010 and 2021. 

Discover more news