Dr Manny's Notes

Dr. Manny: Did postpartum depression play a role in the Capitol shooting?

A U.S. Capitol Police officer secures the area with tape after shots were fired outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington October 3, 2013. (REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

A U.S. Capitol Police officer secures the area with tape after shots were fired outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington October 3, 2013. (REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

As more details are revealed about yesterday’s high-speed car chase near Capitol Hill, which resulted in the fatal shooting of the car’s female driver, information has surfaced indicating that the suspect involved was allegedly suffering from postpartum depression.

The woman who tried to drive her car through a White House barrier was identified by anonymous law enforcement sources as 34-year-old Miriam Carey of Stamford, Conn. In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, Carey’s mother, Idella Carey, said her daughter began suffering from postpartum depression after giving birth last August. The Secret Service said Carey had a 1-year-old girl in the car, who was not injured in the incident. 

Postpartum depression is a real disease that affects anywhere between 15 to 20 percent of women who have recently given birth. Sometimes called the “baby blues,” this depression is mild for many women – but for some, it can turn into a full psychotic episode.

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.

In many states in this country, the law now requires physicians to ask postpartum mothers how they feel in regards to their mental health, because for years this disease was highly ignored – not only by the health system but also by obstetrical providers.

Many women suffer in silence from postpartum depression for fear of embarrassment or sometimes because of the guilt they may feel about their symptoms, especially when they have a newborn at home. It is important to bring awareness to this issue.

Many courageous female leaders in this country have advocated for better treatment and more awareness about postpartum depression among families, arguing that this condition should be dealt with in a head-on approach. For many women, it is difficult to get mental health access to truly treat these problems, putting them at risk for developing sometimes debilitating mental states.

We don’t yet know all the facts in this case, but if it is true that this woman was suffering from postpartum depression and was receiving treatment which failed to improve her overall mental state, then yesterday was a tragedy that should give us all reason to pause and pay attention to mental health.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.