Nurse Calls Cops After New Mom Seeks Help For Depression. Was It The Right Call?

By April Dembosky
KQED

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) California law allows doctors to involuntarily confine a person with a mental disorder if they are a danger to themselves or others. But Dr. Melanie Thomas, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco says what constitutes imminent danger can be vague.

SAN FRANCISCO

Four months after having her second baby, Jessica Porten started feeling really irritable. Little things would annoy her, like her glider chair.

“It had started to squeak,” she said. “And so when I’m sitting there rocking the baby and it’s squeaking, I would just get so angry at that stupid chair.”

She read online that this could be a symptom of postpartum depression, a condition that affects up to 1 in 7 women during or after pregnancy, according to the American Psychological Association.

In California, where Porten lives, those rates are even higher, spurring state lawmakers to introduce a package of bills to improve mental health screening and treatment for new moms.

Porten said she hopes the legislation will help women avoid what she went through.

She went to Capital OB/GYN, a women’s clinic in Sacramento, Calif., that accepts her Medicaid coverage as payment, to talk about medication options and therapy. Porten admitted to the nurse that she was having some violent thoughts.

“I described maybe hitting myself or squeezing the baby too tight,” she said. “But I was very adamant through the entire appointment that I was not going to hurt myself and I was not going to hurt my children.”

Porten said the nurse’s manner toward her changed at that point. “I could see in that moment that she stopped listening to me,” Porten said.

The nurse called the police. The police escorted Porten and her baby to a nearby emergency room. Hospital staff made her change into a gown and took her purse, but they let her keep her diaper bag for the baby. They put them both in a room, under constant watch, though the hospital staff was sympathetic, Porten said.

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