Was Post-partum Depression To Blame in Capitol Hill Shooting?

It could have been a scene from a movie:

Thirty-four year old dental hygienist Miriam Carey, with her 1-year-old daughter in the back seat, careens her car toward a barrier in front of the White House yesterday. She immediately takes off, driving at high speed toward the Capitol building, a cadre of police cars close behind. Despite crashing her car into a barrier and surrounded by police officers with guns drawn, Carey still attempts to turn her car around to escape. The police take action and Carey is fatally shot.

Today, we learn that Carey may have had a history of mental health issues. Miriam Carey’s mother, Idella Carey, told ABC News:

She had post-partum depression after having the baby… A few months later, she got sick. She was depressed. … She was hospitalized.

Miriam Carey

Miriam Carey

But there are also reports that Carey’s condition may have been even more serious. In Dec 2012,  Carey reportedly told Stamford, CT police that she was a “prophet”. CBS News’s Bob Orr reported that she believed that “President Obama was going to ‘lock down’ Stamford and that he had her and her residence under electronic surveillance.”

Neighbors said she seemed to be acting erratic lately, seeming fine one minute and not making any sense the next.

Many women suffer from what is called “baby blues” after the birth of a child. The new mom may feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed and have crying spells and mood swings. This may be accompanied by loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. The symptoms are relatively mild, and resolve with the first two weeks after birth.

Aproximately 10% of new moms will go on to have postpartum depression. The symptoms are more severe, do not resolve in a short period of time, and may occur any time within the first year after birth. In addition, there may be more troubling symptoms such as thoughts of hurting the baby or oneself, as well as not having any interest in the baby.

A small number of new mothers experience a more serious condition known as postpartum psychosis that includes symptoms of confusion, hallucinations and even attempts to harm herself or her child. A tragic example of this is the case of Andrea Yates who killed her five children in June of 2001 and was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Postpartum depression is a serious condition and must be treated by a physician. Treatment can consist of talk therapy, medication or both.

For more information, click here to go to the Resounding Health casebook on the subject.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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