(The Root) — According to ABC News, Miriam Carey, the woman killed by police after driving her car into a White House barrier before leading police on a chase to the Capitol, was suffering from postpartum depression. The outlet quoted Carey’s mother as saying the 34-year-old woman had struggled with the illness following her daughter’s birth last August. (A young girl believed to be Carey’s 1-year-old daughter was safely removed from the car by police.)
Should Carey’s illness be substantiated, the tragedy will likely cast a spotlight on a condition that affects nearly 1 in 7 new mothers but has still not received the community awareness of other more widely covered illnesses, such as breast cancer. Even though celebrities such as Princess Diana and Gwyneth Paltrow acknowledged struggling with the condition, it has been a challenge to keep postpartum depression a part of the national conversation, perhaps because a woman acknowledging that motherhood doesn’t bring joy and happiness 24 hours a day, seven days a week, remains one of the great remaining taboos of American culture.
Postpartum depression can also have deadly consequences. In 2003 Naomi Gaines threw her 14-month old twins into a river. Though she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is now in prison, postpartum depression is believed to have played a role in her case. Mental-health advocates credit her case with drawing attention to the issue, and lawmakers in her state pushed to require that all new mothers be screened for postpartum depression. Gaines’ case was also noteworthy because she became one of the first African-American women to draw attention to an issue that is still not widely discussed in the community.
A study published in 2008 found that African-American women are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression, as are low-income women. African Americans and those with low income are also those most likely to struggle with health care coverage and costs, and are also those least likely to receive treatment for postpartum depression. One analysis of Medicaid records found that black women are half as likely as white women to receive treatment for postpartum depression.
Mothers suffering from postpartum depression can be potential dangers to themselves as well as their children. In the aftermath of Miriam Carey’s death, it is likely that her state of mind in the moments and months leading up to her death will be speculated about endlessly. But here’s hoping that following the speculation, a more serious conversation about battling postpartum depression in the black community and communities at large will follow.
If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression, please visit postpartum.net/Get-Help.aspx or call 800-944-4PPD.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.