The arrest of a Dallas mother on suspicion of cutting the throat of her 1-year-old daughter was once the unthinkable. Family members said the woman who was arrested was a diagnosed schizophrenic.

Unfortunately, these kinds of stories have been far too prevalent in recent years. But there are steps you can take to make sure someone you know doesn’t harm a child.

Joy Crabtree, Psy.D, a licensed psychologist for the Urgent Care and Pediatric Specialties Clinic in Southlake, said there are sometimes warning signs that a mom’s mental health is unstable or depression may be a concern including increased irritability, loss of patience, quick mood changes, excessive energy or extreme fatigue, and a sense of feeling hopeless or overwhelmed.

More serious warning signs, possibly of psychosis, include trouble distinguishing what is and isn’t real, a sense of extreme suspicion or paranoia, and even hearing voices or seeing things other people don’t see. 

At times when psychosis or even an extreme depression is present, a woman can have irrational ideas about her baby — such as that the baby is possessed or that she has to hurt herself or her child. This condition can be extremely serious and disabling, and new mothers who are experiencing these symptoms need medical attention right away.

Women who have other psychiatric illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, major depression or schizoaffective disorder, may be at greater risk of developing postpartum mood symptoms.  Any significant changes in behavior or bizarre beliefs require immediate medical attention and, often, a brief hospitalization. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms, don’t delay getting medical attention.

“The person who is in the midst of some type of mental health issue likely doesn’t know what is or isn’t reasonable,” Crabtree said. “Family members, friends, teachers, or other professionals in contact with parents need to step in if they feel a person needs help. A child should not be left alone with a parent in crisis. The care of the child then depends on other adults.”

Sophia Grant, M.D., works with Cook Children’s Child Abuse Services (CARE team), said it is important that if you do suspect something is wrong to not only call the police, but also to call Child Protective Services.

“Police investigate if there is suspicion that a crime has been committed and to make sure the living environment is safe for the child,” Dr. Grant said. “Without a crime, they may not be able to take action. CPS agents are specially trained to examine the situation and make sure the situation is safe for the child. If there are concerns that no action has been taken after authorities have been notified, call and call again until something is done. We should all be committed to keeping children safe.”

You’ve read what the experts have to say. Now we want to hear from you. Have you ever been in situation where you had to step in and help. What did you do? Did you go through depression after your baby was born?

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