A brief but violent episode yesterday in Washington D.C. has left far more questions than answers. Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old dental hygienist from Stamford, Connecticut, is dead. She was shot by police after a puzzling series of events. Carey crashed her car into a barrier near a White House check point. Miriam, who did not leave her vehicle, appeared to have a verbal exchange with officers. She then backed her car into a police cruiser and sped away towards the U.S. Capitol. After at least seven shots and two crime scenes, Carey was dead, one officer was injured, and Carey’s one-year-old child was left motherless. Since then, Miriam Carey’s mother, Idella, stated that Miriam suffered from postpartum depression, but what is postpartum depression and can it be linked to the shooting?
According to Womenshealth.gov, depression affects “13% of pregnant women and new mothers.” Depressive episodes are unique. No two are exactly alike, but there are common patterns. Crying episodes, withdrawing from friends and family, insomnia coupled with a pervading sense of guilt and worthlessness are just some of the symptoms. In his book, Columbine, Dave Cullen describes a raw, seething anger pervasive to the condition. The sufferer turns this anger inward. When a depressive episode happens after pregnancy, then it is appropriate to describe the patient as having postpartum depression.
In addition to what has previously been mentioned, there are symptoms specific to postpartum depression. A mother may feel overwhelmed by caring for her child. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy. In turn this can lead to the adoption of avoidance coping. The mother may neglect the health of her child, failing to respond potential danger signals like a crying infant. In regards to the capitol shooting, postpartum depression would explain the irrational decision to engage in a high speed chase with a one year old in the vehicle, while treatment could have prevented the incident in the first place.
However, the tenuous link between the capitol shooting and Miriam Carey’s postpartum depression is currently based on the word of the mother. No clinical psychiatric proof has been offered. Miriam may have had a related condition, postpartum psychosis. This also would have caused irrational behavior through the presence of hallucinations, paranoia, and the “voices” often associated with schizophrenia. It is extremely rare. The last highly publicized case of postpartum psychosis was in 2001, when Andrea Yates drowned her five children in a bathtub.
If experiencing depressive symptoms for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek treatment (if experiencing psychotic symptoms this reporter suggests seeking help immediately). Call a physician to schedule a mental health screening. In addition, Womenshealth.gov offers several healthy coping strategies. One, a mother should synch her sleeping schedule to that of the baby. Two, communicate concerns and frustrations with family and friends. Three, join a support group and hold off on making major life changes.
The capitol shooting is a tragedy, but a link between the two is not a reason to stigmatize a treatable condition like postpartum depression. A mother can get help if she makes informed decisions. Like virtually all mental health conditions, the worst thing to do is nothing at all.
Written by David Arroyo