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Postpartum Psychosis: ILL, NOT EVIL

Understanding Postpartum Psychosis and Maternal Infanticide

In the wake of tragic cases where mothers have taken the lives of their children, society is often left grappling with a complex mix of emotions, including shock, sadness, horror, and anger. How could a mother do such a thing? The knee-jerk reaction might be to label these women as evil, but what if there’s a deeper, more nuanced explanation at play? What if these actions stem from a severe mental illness rather than inherent malevolence?

Postpartum psychosis is a rare but severe mental illness that affects approximately 1 to 2 per 1,000 births. It typically emerges within the first few days and weeks after childbirth and is characterized by a profound break from reality. Delusions, hallucinations, confusion, and paranoia are among the hallmark symptoms of this condition. Imagine feeling disconnected from the world around you, besieged by terrifying thoughts and beliefs that seem utterly real. For women experiencing postpartum psychosis, this is their reality.

In the grip of psychosis, a woman’s thoughts and perceptions become distorted to the point where she lacks a reality-based understanding of her actions or the consequences thereof. This altered state of mind can lead to tragic outcomes, such as killing one’s child and or oneself. It’s crucial to recognize that these actions are not driven by malice but by a profound illness that robs individuals of their ability to think and act in reality.

Too often, society’s response to maternal infanticide is one of condemnation and vilification. However, this only serves to perpetuate stigma and shame, further isolating women who are already struggling with a debilitating illness. Instead, we must recognize postpartum psychosis for what it is: a medical emergency requiring urgent intervention and treatment. By destigmatizing mental illness and prioritizing access to mental health resources, we can prevent future tragedies and support affected mothers on a path to recovery.

As a society, we have a collective responsibility to advocate for systemic change that prioritizes maternal mental health. This includes increasing awareness and education surrounding postpartum psychosis and fostering a culture of empathy and support for affected mothers. It also includes improving access to perinatal mental health services, especially higher levels of care such as The Motherhood Center’s Perinatal Partial Hospital Program.

By addressing the root causes of maternal mental illness and providing comprehensive care and support, we can help prevent tragedies and ensure that all mothers receive the help they need and deserve.

If you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum psychosis, call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room.

To learn more about Postpartum Psychosis, listen to TMC’s very own Paige Bellenbaum, LCSW, interviewed here by Dr. Sarah Bren on “Episode 88: Preventing Tragedy and Shining a Light on Postpartum Psychosis: What it is, What it’s not, and How to Find Support For Yourself or a Loved One” of her podcast Securely Attached.

Learn more about Postpartum Psychosis Awareness Day and attend 2024 awareness events here.

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