A mom is accused of killing her 3 kids. It sparked a national conversation about postpartum psychosis
On social media, Lindsay Clancy, 32, seemed like any other mom. She shared numerous photos of – and with – her kids, all smiling as she embraced them. She looked normal. Happy.
But in January, Clancy was charged with murdering her three young children before attempting to take her own life. Many have been trying to understand how this could happen. Why?
At her arraignment, her defense lawyer said Clancy, whose youngest child was 8 months old, may have been suffering from postpartum psychosis, a rare mental health condition that can affect new mothers' connection to reality.
It is not confirmed whether Clancy ever received an official diagnosis, and nothing can explain or excuse the horrific deaths of her three children. However, the case is sparking a national conversation about postpartum mental health, as some mothers share their own stories of hallucinations, paranoia and suicidal thoughts after childbirth. Some recalled feeling out of touch with reality and battling intrusive thoughts. The hashtag #postpartumpsychosis has over 59 million views on TikTok.
Duxbury mom charged with murder of kids: Dad's forgiveness stuns. But it's not a shock.
Within the plethora of personal anecdotes, there is one thing these stories have in common: stigma obstructed the moms from seeking help.
The Duxbury, Massachusetts, tragedy is rare, says Abbie Goldberg, a professor of psychology at Clark University. These individuals rarely commit homicide Postpartum Support International states that 4% of postpartum psychosis sufferers commit infanticide, and 5% die by suicide. Nonetheless, it highlights systemic issues in the lack of "mental health support for new parents (because) the emphasis is on the health of the child," she says.
"Women who have no history of such thoughts may experience alarmingly intrusive ones of self-harming or harming their child," Goldberg says about postpartum psychosis.
What is postpartum psychosis?
Most people are familiar with terms like the "baby blues" or postpartum depression. However, few talk about postpartum psychosis, a treatable but more severe illness occurring in approximately 1 in 500 mothers.
Common symptoms, according to experts, include:
Extreme depression or flat affect.
Decreased need for or inability to sleep.
Paranoia and/or extreme suspiciousness.
Rapid mood swings.
While postpartum psychosis can include signs of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or anxiety, the main difference is "the severity in symptoms," says Jessica MacNair, a licensed professional counselor specializing in postpartum and perinatal mood disorders.
"Postpartum psychosis is always considered an emergency needing immediate care and attention, whereas postpartum depression, OCD and anxiety may be able to be treated in an outpatient setting," MacNair explains.
The pressure we put on mothers to be perfect
Despite the narrative that mothers should be able to do it all – and do it well – many falter under such high expectations. On TikTok, one mom shared her experience with postpartum illness that largely went ignored.
"I couldn't get the graphic images and sounds out of my head. And they only got worse from there," the mom wrote along with a video posted on Jan. 30. "I told people and no one helped me. No one took it seriously."
The stigma, MacNair says, comes from the societal pressure for mothers to have it all together. "We are not 'supposed to' have difficulty after a baby is born; it's 'supposed to' be a joyous time where you feel nothing but gratitude," she says.
Another troubling misconception is that postpartum health issues are a moral failure indicative of incompetence.
"Women feel shame, helplessness and isolation, in many cases, when they find they are struggling – yet feel unable to or prevented from voicing such feelings amidst the stifling pressure to 'do it all,'" Goldberg says.
Awareness, and candid conversations like these, are the first steps toward destigmatization. Beyond education, however, experts say more resources for new parents are necessary, such as extended parental leave, more training for health care providers and accessible and affordable psychiatric care.
More on the postpartum depression, parenting
Postpartum depression is hurting my marriage. What do I do?
What is perinatal depression? Everything you need to know.
Depression in new moms is preventable. Here's how.
What is gentle parenting? And why is it making waves?
Mom guilt: Can we ever let go of it?
If you're thinking about suicide or know someone who is, can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor right away.
Those looking for treatment for perinatal or postpartum depression should seek a women's health specialist with perinatal psychology training. Postpartum Support International can connect moms or loved ones with trained professionals. Connect with them online or by calling 1-800-944-4773.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lindsay Clancy, Duxbury murders and postpartum psychosis explained