It’s vitally important to apply correct diagnoses to serious psychiatric illnesses. When the media disseminate improper diagnoses, a grave disservice is done to people who suffer from these disorders.
By now, most of us know about the car chase that occurred near the U.S. Capitol. A 34 year old woman was shot and killed after leading police on a high-speed chase when she tried to ram a White House gate.
According to a report, Miriam Carey believed she was the “prophet of Stamford” and could communicate with President Obama. The report stated Ms. Carey told police in December 2012 “President Obama had placed Stamford on lockdown and had arranged to have her home electronically monitored, and her life was broadcast on television.” (Ibid).
Her mother told ABC news her daughter “had been hospitalized after suffering post-partum depression.” Soon afterwards, media reports stated Ms. Carey suffered from this disorder.
While I never examined Ms. Carey, I felt the diagnosis of Post-partum depression was wrong. Post-partum Depression involves social withdrawal, sadness, and loss of interest in the baby, as well as in other activities. Believing she was the “prophet of Stamford” and her home was monitored while her life was being broadcast on television, made it very likely the correct diagnosis for Ms. Carey was Schizophrenia. In addition, the previously mentioned article noted Ms. Carey had a family history of Schizophrenia, which has a familial distribution. The report also stated that in December 2012, her boyfriend called police to report she was “off her medication” and acting erratically. It’s important to note the overwhelming majority of Schizophrenic patients are not violent.
Another report published a day after the incident said, “Authorities searching the home of a Connecticut woman who rammed barricades and led police on a chase near the U.S. Capitol found discharge papers from a 2012 mental health evaluation that listed prescriptions to treat schizophrenia and other mental disorders…” http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/04/politics/u-s-capitol-shooting/index.html?eref=rss_mostpopular.
Psychiatrically, the grandiose and paranoid delusions from which Ms. Carey suffered are typical of certain Schizophrenic syndromes. The article noted that police searching Ms. Carey’s home found risperidone, an anti-psychotic medication used to treat Schizophrenia. While she may have suffered from Post-partum Depression (superimposed on Schizophrenia), the pathology described thereafter is not remotely that of Post-partum Depression.
Diagnostic labels such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Post-partum Depression are often applied indiscriminately by people with no mental health training. In the rush to be the first to provide updates on breaking news, the media seizes upon such comments and propagates them as fact. By the time such misinformation is corrected, the damage has already been done.
This is not simply a matter of semantics or incorrect nomenclature. Combat veterans and others who suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder are improperly branded as potentially dangerous.
The media have an obligation to refrain from disseminating flawed information so it doesn’t become popular belief.
Author of Mad Dog House and Love Gone Mad