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

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(Yadira PEREZ Perez/AFP via Getty Images)
(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 see other 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 mother Lindsay 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 and how 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 segment aired on January 31, 2023.

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Robin Young Co-Host, Here & Now
Robin Young brings more than 25 years of broadcast experience to her role as host of Here & Now.


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Karyn Miller-Medzon Senior Producer, Here & Now
Karyn Miller-Medzon is a senior producer for Here & Now.



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