According to ABC News sources, 34-year-old Miriam Carey has a history of emotionally disturbed behavior. That may be one of the reasons why she led police on a high speed chase in the nation's capitol.
Her boyfriend reportedly told police she believed she was the prophet of Stamford, Connecticut, and she was in contact with President Obama. She believed that Stamford was under lockdown and that she was under government surveillance. These beliefs are called paranoid delusions, and there are many causes.
"There may be underlying mental illness such as severe bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, or substance use, or severe depression," said Dr. Elizabeth Fitelson, a psychiatrist at Columbia University.
According to family members, Miriam suffered from postpartum depression. But as a psychiatrist who specializes in women's mental health, Dr. Fitelson says the delusions and extreme behavior point towards a rare but more severe form of the condition, known as postpartum psychosis.
"Women in the postpartum period can be at a higher risk for this particularly if they have had a diagnosis of other mental illness such as bipolar or schizophrenia. One minute the woman can look fine, one minute she can be disoriented, confused, or hearing strange voices," said Dr. Fitelson.
There are treatments available, police reportedly found medications used to treat depression and psychotic episodes in her apartment. It's not clear if she was taking them as prescribed.
If someone shows signs that they may be of imminent harm to themselves or to others, that's when you would hospitalize someone with mental illness.
But until we learn more from those that knew her and treated her, it's too soon to say if this could have been prevented.
More information on the Women's Program in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia can be found at www.columbiapsychiatry.org