While the nation's attention is once again focused on the preventable tragedy of Miriam Carey's death, we wonder if this horrific event which leaves a motherless child and a family in mourning will lead to anything beyond another sensational headline. And the continuing damnation of any mother whose post birth experience includes mental illness.
My attempts to field media inquiries regarding her reported status as having suffered from postpartum depression led to the usual futile attempts to clarify the differences between postpartum depression and the rarer mental health emergency of postpartum psychosis. While some news outlets responsibly changed their information to reflect what science and research has revealed others persist in the kind of sensationalism that keeps women silent and avoidant of seeking help. Why it is so hard to encourage the dissemination of research based facts regarding these illnesses remains a frustrating reality to those who advocate for such education.
One nationally known high risk obstetrician who has made it his business to understand the nuances of pregnancy related mood disorders is Postpartum Support International President's Advisory Council Member Dr. Manny Alvarez. In response to the tragedy, Dr. Manny stated,
"Through the course of my experience as an obstetrician dealing with high-risk pregnancies, I have seen these psychotic episodes with my own eyes. During these episodes, women lose the ability to behave rationally, to the point where they truly do not understand what they are doing. Many times, this puts the patient at risk for committing a crime or injuring themselves."
How excruciately ironic that this heart breaking loss occurred during a week when battles rage about the adoption of Obamacare? Regardless of your politics or view, the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act was the first in our nation's history to include legislation protective of mothers battling pregnancy related mood disorders. We have not heard enough about the gains in maternal mental health - as well as physical health - included in the legislation which - if appropriately funded - could have begun turning the tide and helping to pave a clearer path to effective treatment for women who now fall through the cracks after pregnancy.
It is up to every maternal mental health advocate, nonprofit organization, family members, friend or new mother to continue the quest for awareness, easier access to mental health services, improved linkages among all providers, the creation of referral resources and reduction of stigma if we are to finally do right by America's mothers.