We don't know much about 34-year-old dental hygienist Miriam Carey, who was shot and killed by police yesterday after she crashed into a barricade outside the White House and led a high-speed chase to the U.S. Capitol — with her toddler still in her carseat — but we do know that her shooting has given pundits yet another opportunity to spread shitty, distorted information about depression.
When tragedy strikes, we want details. That's okay: we can't tackle root causes without facts. But the initial scramble to figure out the who-what-where-when-why so rarely leads to deeper, productive discussion. After both the Sandy Hook and Aurora shootings, the National Autism Association had to make a statement to remind Americans that there's absolutely no link between planned violence and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Still, our country continues to stigmatize mentally ill people instead of questioning whether it might be a good idea to provide them with more and higher quality services instead of killing and incarcerating them.
Carey's mother says she suffered from postpartum depression. Investigators found two medications in her apartment: one for schizophrenia and symptoms of bipolar disorder; the other an antidepressant. So, naturally, Today got a psychologist to come on and say women with PPD sometimes kill their children. She said:
"In some cases PPD has led mothers to kill their children, it has led mothers to do really difficult challenging awful things, so it does challenge their judgment, it does make them more impulsive, it does create bigger problems in some people, so we have to be aware that that could be an explanation."
That's a flat-out lie she just disseminated on national television. Postpartum psychosis, which is extremely rare, leads to delusions, but postpartum depression — which occurs in up to 1 in 7 women — is completely different.
There are so many topics we can endlessly debate while we wait for more info: what are the repercussions of ignoring the reality of mental illness in America? Did the cops really have to shoot Carey? It would be great to have a valuable national conversation about PPD. For example! Some studies have shown that race/ethnicity is a race factor; according to a 2006 study, African-American women like Carey were significantly more likely to report depression in late pregnancy and the early postpartum period.
Speculating about Carey's "troubles" and spreading misinformation about a type of clinical depression that affects more than half a million women in the US every year won't prevent another tragedy like this from happening; it'll just prevent more women from coming out and getting help.