Aussie star Sarah Wynter details terrifying postpartum psychosis experience

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Aussie actor Sarah Wynter has opened up about her incredible battle with postpartum depression which saw her spend eight days in a psychiatric hospital and a further two years in recovery.

In a heartfelt essay for Vanity Fair, the Newcastle-born star of the TV series 24 revealed how she suffered memory loss, psychosis and episodes of 'primal screaming' after welcoming twin boys in 2011.

A selfie of Sarah Wynter with her three sons. Photo: Instagram/sarahwynterofficial.
Aussie actor Sarah Wynter with her three sons, Oscar (rear) and twins Sam and Julian. Photo: Instagram/sarahwynterofficial.

Sarah, 48, and her then-husband, magazine editor Dan Peres were already parents to a three-year-old son, Oscar when their twins arrived six weeks early.

She recalled how newborns Sam and Julian had remained in the neonatal intensive care unit for 'two long weeks' until they were cleared to come home.

But, back in their New York home, Sarah was still 'haunted by the beeps' from the life-giving machines in the NCIU.

After the pristine environment of the hospital, she couldn't shake the fear of 'dangerous germs' harming her babies and began an intense cleaning regieme.

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A selfie of Sarah Wynter in the car. Photo: Instagram/sarahwynterofficial.
Sarah played Kate Warner on 24. Photo: Instagram/sarahwynterofficial.

Soon, all guests including the nanny were required by Sarah to disinfect themselves then don medical scrubs, booties and hairnets before entering the house.

Her husband Dan dismissed Sarah's fears which caused her to start resenting him.

"[Dan] kept saying, 'nothing is going to happen.' But that frustrated me. He didn’t understand the dangers. He was becoming my enemy," Sarah wrote.

She started to stutter, which surprised the SAG Award-nominated actor, and experience neurological symptoms such as brain fog, memory loss, loss of speech and blurry vision.

"My kitchen was confusing me. I didn’t know where we kept things anymore. Every time I turned around to do something I forgot what it was I was trying to do."

Sarah Wynter with her three sons at the beach. Photo: Instagram/sarahwynterofficial.
Sarah with her three sons at the beach. Photo: Instagram/sarahwynterofficial.

To help with her memory, Sarah jotted down her thoughts on Post-it notes which soon covered the walls and surfaces of the house.

Her friends and family could see that Sarah was struggling immensely, but any suggestion that she might need help was rebuffed.

She described nightly 'primal screaming episodes,' one of which ended with Dan 'on his knees... crying and begging' her to seek help.

"I started to hit and kick him until my stepmother-in-law restrained me and held me until I fell asleep," Sarah wrote.

Her friends staged an intervention and took her to a therapist who diagnosed her with postpartum depression with psychosis. The therapist suggested a stint at a psychiatric hospital which Sarah initially refused but later agreed to.

"After eight long days I was discharged. I felt on top of the world, and couldn’t stop cuddling my three boys when I got home. I had been released and cured. So I thought," Sarah wrote.

She was hit with such severe depression and was taking 'so many drugs and combos' that she actually 'longed for the mania' that she experienced prior to her hospital stay.

Sarah slowly began to recover, relying heavily on a calendar that a close friend had made to remind her to 'eat, take naps, and go outside' each day. 

"Gradually I adjusted to my new life, not doing too much, mostly resting a lot and just being as present as I could be for my children. I didn’t take on anything too complicated like driving or cooking yet. I still stuttered and I didn’t have conversations with anyone who didn’t know me well."

Sarah Wynter's twin sons eating birthday cake in high chairs. Photo: Instagram/sarahwynterofficial.
Twins Sam and Julian on their first birthday. Photo: Instagram/sarahwynterofficial.

She emphasised just how long it took for her to get back to her 'old self' after being so unwell.

"It took me six months after leaving the hospital to feel safe enough to be left alone with my kids. It took a year and a half for me to make a dinner. Two years to wean myself off the heavy antidepressants and return to my old self."

Sarah said that she was ashamed of her illness for a long time, describing it as a 'dark secret' that she shared only with friends. With time, however, she was able to open up and now wants to destigmatise mental health and the act of asking for help.

"Now I understand that I was struck with an illness that I did not choose. But I’m healthy now and my three boys are my world."

Sarah's powerful story is the focus of a new film, A Mouthful of Air which stars Amanda Seyfried.

Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.

Online support is available via Beyond Blue.

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