Postpartum Psychosis Is Rare, but Life-Threatening

Postpartum Psychosis Is Rare, but Life-ThreateningEarly into the evening on January 24th, it was reported a 32-year-old woman strangled and killed all three of their children in the basement of her and her husband’s home. The woman was also found injured in their backyard after jumping out of a second-story window in an attempt to commit suicide. She had allegedly been struggling with postpartum mental health issues after giving birth to the couple’s third child.

According to the timeline of events, Lindsay Clancy visited two different psychiatrists to discuss her symptoms a few months postpartum. She was said to have been prescribed a cocktail of psychiatric medications to treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia. At one point, she was supposedly taking up to four different medications per day.

Presumably after not noticing a positive change, Lindsay was evaluated at another hospital where she was said to not have shown any signs of postpartum depression despite her making notes that she resented her children, had suicidal thoughts, and thoughts of hurting her children. She took things into her own hands and admitted herself to a mental health hospital, but was discharged only five days later as she was thought to no longer be a danger to herself. Weeks later in January, her husband had reportedly told friends that her medications were “turning her into a zombie” and repeatedly went to doctors to try and reduce her over-the-top prescriptions.

It was just days after this that she convinced her husband she was fine enough to stay home with the kids while he ran to the store and picked up dinner. In less than one hour, she managed to strangle all three of her young children, then attempted to take her own life as well.

Lindsay Clancy’s story ignited the important discussion of postpartum psychosis and how patients are treated, and sometimes dismissed, by both doctors and hospitals when they display clear symptoms.

What’s the difference between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis?

When it comes to postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, there are many similarities. Both involve sadness, anger, anxiety, mental numbness, withdrawal, feeling disconnected from the baby, and sometimes even having thoughts of harming themselves or the baby. The major difference in postpartum psychosis is that it involves having delusions or hallucinations as well. Postpartum depression is significantly more common, affecting one in seven women compared to psychosis which affects one to two out of every 1000 women.

Since postpartum depression is so common, many new mothers and their doctors are familiar with the symptoms and keep an eye out for any signs of it after giving birth. However, with postpartum psychosis being so rare and coming on so quickly, many people do not recognize the symptoms and when a treatment for psychosis rather than depression is needed.

Are there risk factors for postpartum psychosis?

Scientists and medical professionals are still studying the condition. First-time mothers with affective mood disorders appear to be at the greatest risk of postpartum psychosis; almost half of all women who experience this psychosis have been previously diagnosed with bipolar one disorder. Other risk factors may include:

Lack of sleep and hormonal fluctuations after birth, especially the rapidly falling levels of estrogen, may also pose a risk….

Other factors like advanced maternal age and low birth weight of the baby (less than one hundred fifty grams) are also considered possible contributing factors while maternal diabetes and high birth weight of the baby (more than four thousand five hundred grams) appear to be protective against puerperal psychosis in first-time mothers during the first ninety days. Negative pregnancy and birthing outcomes like congenital malformations, preterm birth (less than thirty-two weeks), and fetal/infant death also increase the risk of psychoses and major depressive disorders in not just first-time mothers but in all mothers.

Doctors and hospitals need to take responsibility for after-care

After Lindsay Clancy’s story went viral, many attacked her character and questioned how she could ever hurt, let alone murder, her own children. What we want to know is, how did her doctors not recognize her psychosis and why were they treating her with so many different prescription drugs—many of which were allegedly instructed to be taken at the same time?

The Clancy family recognized that Lindsay’s mental health was not right soon after their third child was born, so they took all the right steps and had her seen by doctors to get properly diagnosed and treated. When they felt that the first few doctors were not effectively treating her condition, Lindsay admitted herself into a hospital for further treatment after expressing suicidal thoughts about herself and thoughts about harming her own children.

Seeking inpatient treatment was their third attempt to get the right diagnosis and get her medications balanced in an effort to get her mental health back on track. Even after that third attempt and after struggling for many months, the psychiatrists at that hospital still only found it necessary to treat her for merely a few days.

What should I do if my partner exhibits signs of postpartum psychosis?

Call 9-1-1 – immediately. This is a life-threatening medical emergency, and if your partner or spouse starts exhibiting signs of self-harm, or expressing a desire to harm the children, they need prompt medical attention. The only silver lining of this potentially deadly condition is that it is typically temporary: for most women, the psychosis will eventually go away with treatment.

Postpartum psychosis can also lead to hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions (among other effects). If you see your partner or spouse exhibiting any of these symptoms – even if she has not expressed a desire to harm herself or others – a doctor should be your first call. Medical intervention is critical, and there is a very good chance that you will need to be an aggressive advocate. Remember: this is a rare condition, and cognitive bias is a real issue when it comes to medical treatment. Research also shows that there are significant disparities in how women’s health – and especially the health of Black women and Women of Color – is treated by doctors. So you may have to fight to get your loved one the help she needs, and to get her doctors to understand the severity of the condition. Don’t let them wave it off as sleep deprivation or hormones: keep advocating to get her and your child(ren) the help they need.

Please contact Paulson & Nace, PLLC through this contact form or by calling our office.

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