The 34-year-old woman who was shot and killed outside the U.S. Capitol yesterday was suffering from postpartum depression with psychotic features, according to her sister. The woman, Miriam Carey, a dental hygienist is reported to have had delusions of President Obama stalking her. She was killed after leaving what the police described as a typical two-bedroom apartment with nothing out of the ordinary and driving 265 miles from her home in Connecticut to the White House barricades on Pennsylvania Avenue.Shen then turned around and drove toward the U.S. Capitol where she was shot by police officers.
Rep. Michael McCaual, a Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that he had been informed that Carey had been treated for schizophrenia, although her family members described it as a series of psychotic episodes with a postpartum onset. A plausible explanation is that Carey was experiencing psychotic and manic symptoms that lead led to her delusions, paranoia, energy and irritability.
Postpartum depression is the most well known pregnancy-related mood disorder. Individuals can also experience manic and psychotic symptoms. Postpartum mood disorders are fare more severe than what’s called the baby blues, a temporary sadness that can hit women soon after they give birth and law for a few days or a couple of weeks. Postpartum depression and its cousins strike more than 14 percent of women and can last for months.
It is often difficult for mothers to get care because of stigma, a lack of understanding or education on the issues or feeling so overwhelmed that its hard for a mother to put her health priorities first.
Factors that can contribute to postpartum depression, mania and psychosis include sensitive to dramatic changes in hormone levels that occur during pregnancy and postpartum; sleep deprivation; psychological stresses of new motherhood, previous history of mental illness and family history of mental illness. Other factors that could increase risk include difficult pregnancies, sensitivity to changes, labor or delivery; colicky, difficult or demanding newborns; poor social support systems; psychological stressors, certain personality traits and other factors. Doctors recommend that you consult with a psychiatrist familiar with postpartum issues months prior to birth if you have a personal or family history of mood disorders.
In recent years, several women have opened up about their struggles with mental health postpartum. Brooke Shields, the actress, has publicly spoken about her postpartum depression. Her memoir, Down Come the Rain, eloquently illustrates both the torture of depression and that double theft that occurs when what is supposed to be such a joyous occasion — bringing a newborn into the field — feels like it is being snatched from you.
Valerie Plame Wilson, the C.I.A. officer who became entangled in the debate over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, told NPR that her experience with postpartum depression tested her in ways that being an undercover operative never did.
If you need help, a great resource is Postpartum Support Virginia, which sponsors supported groups, vets medical professionals and provides other resources. You can find the names of individuals you can call or e-mail who have been through postpartum mood disorders, a list of medical professionals who have said that they have a special interest in postpartum and other resources.
Several of the mental health professionals include Dr. Imran Akram, who works in our offices in Centreville and McLean; Dr. Beverly Reader, who specializes in women’s mental health issues and Dr. Jennifer Santoro in Fairfax.
I’ve posted the list of postpartum support groups in the area below: