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Massachusetts childrens' deaths spotlight postpartum psychosis. How can we recognize and prevent it?

Postpartum psychosis and can include depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusion. (Yadira PEREZ Perez/AFP via Getty Images)
Postpartum psychosis and can include depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusion. (Yadira PEREZ Perez/AFP via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. For specific maternal mental health support, call the 24-hour hotline at (833) 943-5746 or seeother ways to get help.

A tragedy in Massachusetts puts a spotlight on a rare, but sometimes dangerous, form of mental illness. It’s called postpartum psychosis and can include depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusion. Some cases end in a new mother harming herself or her children.

This appears to have been the case earlier this month when motherLindsay Clancy allegedly took the lives of her three young children before attempting to take her own life.

Adrienne Griffen, executive director of the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, lays out how to recognize troubling symptoms, and where andhow to get help.

Symptoms to watch for in yourself and others

  • Experiencing a true break with reality


This can include hearing voices, having delusions or hallucinations, and a feeling of being in and out of touch with real life.

  • Having scary or violent intrusive thoughts and wanting to act on them 


Other mental illnesses, like obsessive-compulsive disorder, often include intrusive thoughts as a symptom. However, most people who experience intrusive thoughts and are not experiencing psychosis will feel disturbed by those notions and take deliberate action to avoid them. The violent thoughts themselves are not the telling symptom of psychosis, it’s when people want to act on those thoughts or feel no aversion to them.

  • Religious overtones, such as perceived direct communication from god or the devil


Many women who’ve harmed their children cite instructions from “the devil” to do so, requests for sacrifices from their god, or the idea that the only way to save their children from evil is to take their lives.

  • A new mother not seeming like her normal self: Unable to eat, sleep, take care of herself, etc. 


It’s possible for someone experiencing postpartum psychosis to hide these symptoms, but sometimes spouses or other family members can spot early signs through changes in behavior or demeanor.

Where and how to get help if you need it

  • National Maternal Mental Health Hotline – (833) 9-HELP4MOMS or (833) 943-5746
  • Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – call or text 988
  • National Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741
  • Find a trained mental health provider through the Postpartum Support International directory.
  • Join the Postpartum Support International peer mentor program to connect with others who’ve faced similar struggles.

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.