Worcester County

State’s focus on postpartum depression goes back years

WORCESTER, Mass. — “This is a problem, not for everyone, obviously,” said State Representative James O’Day, who represents the 14th Worcester District. “But when it occurs it can be very devastating.”

O’Day is talking about postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis — subjects he is very familiar with, as co-chair of the Massachusetts Postpartum Depression Commission.

“Each year, there are a number of bills that are filed, based on what we talk about in the commission,” O’Day said.

Eerily, O’Day and others filed a bill last week that would facilitate screening for postpartum depression in pediatrician’s offices. Just four days later, authorities discovered three children strangled in Duxbury — only one survived. Their mother, Lindsay Clancy, is charged with murder. She is in the hospital after a suicide attempt.

That family tragedy has sparked interest in the topic of postpartum depression — but, in fact, the state’s been talking about the illness for a dozen years. The legislature created the commission O’Day co-chairs back in 2010.

“All kinds of things can transpire during a pregnancy and the time after that,” O’Day said. “And it’s a hard thing, sometimes, for a new mom to say, ‘I’m not doing well. I’m not okay.’”

O’Day said the commission’s goal is to educate residents about the disorder — and to get every new mom screened for it.

“Nobody, regrettably, wants to talk about mental illness,” O’Day said. “Report mental illness, be someone who is stricken with mental illness. It’s still looked upon as taboo today. The fact that here in 2023 it’s still stigmatized is a problem.”

Especially because postpartum depression is relatively common, with one study estimating up to 15 percent of women experience it. O’Day said maybe 20 percent of women are screened for it in Massachusetts.

“We need to do better, early on, letting (new moms) know this is a celebratory time in your life, but there are potentials you need to kinda be a little mindful of,” O’Day said. “And if you have the sense of those things coming along, you have to be able to speak that. Talk about it. Let people know you’re not doing great.”

It’s unknown whether Clancy communicated her despair. Perhaps it just wasn’t possible.

“Nobody, at this point, can seem to understand any kind of rational rhyme or reason leading up to this,” said Criminal Defense Attorney Peter Elikann.

That may lead to an insanity defense, Elikann suggested.

“It’s not like you just go into court and say, ‘I have a mental health issue and here’s a letter from a psychiatrist,’ and that’s it,” Elikann said. “You’re not arguing you didn’t do the crime. You’re just saying, here’s my explanation. I had no idea whatsoever what I was doing. I was completely out of it. I did not understand the wrongfulness of my conduct.”

But, Elikann warned, jurors rarely buy insanity defenses.

“Not everyone realizes how unpopular the insanity defense is with jurors,” he said. “I think, often, jurors are suspicious and they think, well, if you have the wherewithal to travel here and travel there and make a phone call and do certain things, obviously you’re not totally out of it and deluded.”

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