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Postpartum psychosis: More serious than people realize

Postpartum psychosis: More serious than people realize

In July, a 33-year-old woman told law enforcement that she tried to drown her 3-month-old baby. According to CBS Miami, the woman took the infant to a canal near her home, submerging the child for five or six minutes before pulling him from the water. The child was taken to a hospital in extremely critical condition and has since been placed in his father’s custody.

The mother, who was charged with two counts of attempted murder, told law enforcement that she suffers from postpartum depression, which affects many pregnant women or new mothers in Minnesota and across the country. Although it is rare, postpartum psychosis may manifest in a fraction of these women, potentially resulting in the mother committing a violent crime.

Understanding postpartum depression

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that roughly 13 percent of pregnant woman or new mothers suffer from some form of depression, which can be triggered by the extreme hormonal changes that take place. This is more than simply “baby blues,” in which a mother may feel let down after delivery. Depression is marked by a persistent emotional disorder that lasts longer than just a few weeks.

There are some common factors that may further predispose women to developing both depression and psychosis, as the DHHS points out the following:

  • Having a personal or family history of depression or mental illness
  • Having anxiety about the pregnancy
  • Having issues with a prior birth or pregnancy
  • Having other stressors, including money issues or marriage problems
  • Having a substance abuse problem

Psychosis, which is the rarest form of postpartum depression, can lead to rapid mood swings, hallucinations and delusions or strange beliefs.

When the condition leads to crime

According to Postpartum Support International, postpartum psychosis affects roughly 0.1 to 0.2 percent of pregnant women or new mothers. The organization states that there is a link between this condition and bipolar disorder, as both involve delusional thinking. Unfortunately, the condition can cause women to harm or even kill their children.

Psychology Today reports that unlike women with postpartum depression, a woman suffering from postpartum psychosis is unable to determine that her violent thoughts regarding her child are wrong and potentially dangerous. Experts say that these women will actually break from reality. In some cases, a woman may experience what is known as a psychotic merger, in which she cannot differentiate herself from her baby. In order to avoid losing her sense of self, she may try to kill herself or her child.

Researchers suggest that murder or suicide could be prevented if there were better education and treatment available. People who suspect they or someone they love may suffer from either depression or psychosis should seek immediate medical attention.

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