Moms with Postpartum Depression Don't Kill People
It doesn’t matter who she is, what her history is, or how old her child is. If a mother commits a crime or does harm, postpartum depression will be mentioned within minutes.
Not 24 hours after Connecticut mother Miriam Carey showed up in DC in her black Infiniti and started ramming barriers at the White House and U.S. Capitol, PPD initially was named as the cause.
Moms are not a major crime demographic. Society thinks moms are safe and perfect and wonderful and don’t ever do bad things, so the only way to explain it when a mom does something scary is to blame mental illness. Of course that’s wrong and unfair – mental illness is not the source of all the world’s ills or even those of mothers – but that’s what happens. Not only do they blame it on mental illness, they blame it specifically on PPD. People still don’t understand that mothers with PPD don’t kill, as much as we’ve tried to explain otherwise.
Let’s all say it together: Moms with postpartum depression don’t kill people.
Not their babies or their friends or their spouses or anyone. They just don’t.
We need to get that clear once and for all so that the 14% of all mothers who struggle with this very common illness will not fear being locked up or having their children taken away if they reach out for help.
That gets us to the next issue. Moms with psychosis could kill. This is a very difficult thing to say, but the fact is that there is a 5% infanticide/suicide rate among mothers who have postpartum psychosis, mainly due to delusions and hallucinations that have the potential to lead a psychotic mom to act in ways she never would otherwise.
While the rate is very low, these children’s and mothers’ lives are important, so psychiatric experts consider any postpartum psychosis an emergency. They want to make sure any mom with psychosis is identified quickly and properly treated so she can be protected and kept safe from her own illness.
When we talk about this, though, it hurts the moms who’ve had psychosis, the vast majority of whom have never done anything wrong or dangerous. It also hurts women who live with bipolar disorder, the leading risk factor for postpartum psychosis, because they can be made to feel like they should never have children or like they’re walking time bombs. They don’t want to be -- or deserve to be -- branded this way. Just like moms with PPD, they have a real brain illness that is fully treatable. It has nothing to do with their ability to mother or quality of character.
We don’t know for sure what Miriam Carey’s diagnosis was, though we know she was prescribed medication used to treat mental illness. We also don’t know if she received the correct diagnosis, or whether she had a treatment plan that was effective, or whether she was even following that plan.
What we do know is that her sweet child is now without her mother and, that as difficult as it is to talk about these things, we need to continue to have an open dialogue about the ways in which mental illness can strike mothers. We need to work harder to create awareness, identify them and help them to recover.
I only wish this had happened for Miriam.