(NEW YORK) — Emily Dickt, a mom of two from Indiana, said she was “hit hard” after learning that a mother in Massachusetts had been charged with killing her three kids.
“It really got me thinking about my own mental health and things that I had struggled with since having kids,” Dickt told ABC News. “From what I’ve seen, it scared a lot of us [mothers]."”
The Massachusetts mom, Lindsay Clancy, appeared in court last week via Zoom from her hospital bed to face charges that she strangled her three young children to death. In addition to two counts of murder, Clancy is also charged with three counts of strangulation and three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, court documents show.
On the day of the incident, Jan. 24, police received a 911 call just after 6 p.m. ET from a man who said his wife had attempted suicide by jumping out of a window at their house.
First responders subsequently found three young children, a 5-year-old girl, a 3-year-old boy and a 7-month-old boy, inside the home “unconscious with obvious signs of severe trauma,” Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz said last month.
Clancy has pleaded not guilty to the charges. In court on Feb. 7, a judge ordered her to remain hospitalized until medically cleared to move to a rehabilitation facility.
Clancy is scheduled to appear in court next on May 2, for a probable cause hearing.
Dickt, whose daughters are ages 4 and 2, said that while all the details of Clancy’s case are not publicly known, she felt compelled to share a video on TikTok about Clancy to let other moms know they are not alone if they are struggling postpartum.
Dickt’s video said, in part, “We live in a society that is so quick to judge. When in reality it could be any of us.”
“When I shared that post, it like came flooding in with just so many other people sharing their stories and what they struggled with,” she told ABC News. “People just feel alone, like they’re the only ones that are dealing with it, and that’s a scary feeling.”
Dickt was not alone in taking to social media to talk about Clancy’s case and share her own mental health struggles as a mom.
“I am lucky to be alive today thanks to daily medication but its an uphill battle every day,” another mom, Bex Spencer, shared on TikTok. “My heart is broken for this family.”
Erica Moreno, a mom of two, shared on TikTok that reading about Clancy brought her back to the time she was six months postpartum and struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety and rage.
“Scared. Out of my mind. Thinking my daughter would be better if I weren’t there,” she wrote, later adding, “I somehow survived.”
Putting a spotlight on different types of postpartum struggles
In Clancy’s first court appearance on Feb. 7, prosecutors alleged that she planned the killings, saying she showed no signs of “distress or trouble” earlier in the day and that she searched the time it would take to drive to and from a restaurant in an adjacent town and called the restaurant to place a pick-up order before asking her husband, Patrick, to drive to get the meal.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Sprague said Clancy, a 32-year-old nurse, was evaluated by a psychiatrist in late December and was told she, “did not have postpartum depression and she had no symptoms of postpartum depression.” Sprague said Clancy wrote in her journal about having suicidal thoughts and, in one instance, thoughts of harming her children prior to checking herself into a mental health facility on Jan. 1, according to ABC affiliate WCVB-TV.
“She did not write or voice those thoughts after a stay at the hospital,” Sprague said of Clancy, whom she said was discharged from the facility on Jan. 5.
Clancy’s defense attorney, Kevin Reddington, argued that the killings “were not planned by any means” and were a product of mental illness.
Reddington also said in court that Clancy had been heavily medicated as she suffered from postpartum depression “as well as a possibility of postpartum psychosis that is pretty much ignored,” according to WCVB-TV.
Prosecutors said Clancy called her husband from her hospital bed and told him she killed their children “because she heard a voice and had ‘a moment of psychosis,"” though he told prosecutors his wife had never mentioned hearing voices.
The public spotlight on Clancy’s case has highlighted an important distinction between postpartum psychosis and the more common postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression — a depression that occurs after having a baby — affects as many as 1 in 8 women who give birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Postpartum psychosis is rare and causes delusions or hallucinations that can prompt suicidal or homicidal action, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Among the court documents submitted by Clancy’s lawyer so far are nearly 40 letters from friends and co-workers that describe Clancy as a caring and loving mom and nurse.
One former coworker of Clancy’s said in her letter that she had suffered from postpartum depression herself, writing, “I could of [sic] been Lindsay. Any one of us could have been.”
Another letter was signed by over 80 moms who identified themselves as the “mothers of Foxboro, Mansfield, North Attleboro, MA.”
“Lindsay will have to live with the aftermath of her postpartum depression and that is a sentence that we would not wish on any grieving mother. None of us can even begin to imagine what she is feeling, nor do we want to,” they wrote in the letter. “As mothers, we know Lindsay was not in a healthy space to carry out the acts she is accused of and we will stand by her in her darkest hour as we wish any other mother would do for us if we found ourselves struggling too.”
Alicia Murray, a licensed mental health therapist in Syracuse, New York, said she has no connection to Clancy or the case but felt compelled to speak about it on TikTok after hearing from her patients, many of whom are mothers.
“In the first week or so after [Clancy’s story] hit the news, women were coming to therapy saying, ‘It could have been me,"” Murray told ABC News. “I think women that have gone through their own postpartum experiences and have felt that like, intense, out-of-body, like really intense emotions and experiences, they sit down with me, and they’re like, ‘I get it. It totally could have been me."”
Murray said that as both a mom and a mental health practitioner, she also chose to speak out in hopes of erasing the stigma that exists around postpartum struggles.
She noted that on her TikTok post, while many moms shared their own stories, other comments sought to negatively portray the mental health struggles of mothers.
“It breaks my heart that other moms are reading those comments,” Murray said. “It’s very uncomfortable to hear women talk about thoughts of hurting their baby and thoughts of something happening to their baby, and I get it, when we’re uncomfortable sometimes we act with anger or shame or try to deflect the conversation, but that’s not OK to do.”
She continued, “The moms who are sharing their stories, I think, are so incredible, and people should listen, because they’ve been through it firsthand.”
‘There’s a ton of stigma and misunderstanding’
Katayune Kaeni, a licensed psychologist board chair of Postpartum Support International, told ABC News the organization, a support network for postpartum moms, has seen a “big jump” in inquiries amid Clancy’s case.
“What ends up happening is that a lot of people who are dealing with postpartum depression get so worried that what has happened to Lindsay is going to happen to them because people don’t have adequate information to understand what is going on,” Kaeni told ABC News. “And so rightly so, it’s really upsetting and anxiety-provoking for people.”
Kaeni, who has no affiliation with Clancy or her case, said in addition to offering a helpline and support groups for new moms so they know they are not alone, much of the work Postpartum Support International does focuses on educating people about mental health, both during and after pregnancy.
“There’s a ton of stigma and misunderstanding around all perinatal mental issues,” she said. “When people don’t understand what it is, it’s much easier to make assumptions about the person who’s suffering, and that’s what happens oftentimes.”
Postpartum psychosis “is a true medical emergency,” Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ chief medical correspondent and a board-certified OBGYN, said earlier this month.
“This is mental illness,” she added.
Ashton noted that in her 22-year career as a practicing OB-GYN, she has not personally encountered a case of postpartum psychosis, which she said appears “more acutely” than postpartum depression, meaning symptoms can progress quickly and are more severe.
“It can present with signs and symptoms like confusion, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, obsessive thoughts and then of course, tragically, attempts to harm one’s self or baby,” Ashton said, referring to postpartum psychosis. “This is a completely different entity than postpartum depression.”
Symptoms of postpartum depression include withdrawing from loved ones, crying more than usual, feeling worried or overly anxious, feeling anger, doubting your ability to take care of your baby and thinking about harming yourself or your baby, according to the CDC. The symptoms may last for weeks or months after giving birth, and are more intense and longer lasting than the “baby blues” that women may experience after giving birth.
Treatment options for postpartum depression will differ based on severity and type of symptoms and may include medication options, psychotherapy or support groups. In 2019, a drug, called Zulresson, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the first-ever medication made specifically for women suffering from postpartum depression.
Ashton noted that it is important to seek professional medical help in any case of a woman experiencing mental health struggles after giving birth. If a person is experiencing postpartum psychosis, he or she should seek help at an emergency room.
“Absolutely, intervention is warranted for either,” Ashton said of both postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression. “Medication can be lifesaving.”
Postpartum Support International’s free and confidential helpline is available via call and text at 1-800-944-4PPD (4773). If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. Free, confidential help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You are not on your own.
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