Mental health: Case study suggested answers

Last updated: Monday, April 29, 2024

Lucy is a 27-year-old woman who experienced a stillbirth 6 months ago after unexpectedly falling pregnant. She sits and weeps for long periods of time and has been unable to talk to anyone about how she feels. Although her mother is alive and well, she lives 200 miles away. She currently lives with her husband. 

Lucy has epilepsy and currently takes lamotrigine. Investigations suggest the lamotrigine was unlikely to have caused the stillbirth. 

Her appetite is poor, she has lost 2 stones in weight and she sleeps poorly, often awakening at 4am thinking how cruel the world is and how she might as well end it all. She cannot cope with her job as a nursing assistant and is not looking after her home or doing any cooking. She constantly argues with her husband who thinks that enough time has passed now and she should be able to get back to work. 

Post-natal depression as her illness started within 12 months of giving birth. 

Low mood – sitting and weeping for long periods, suicidal ideation, early morning wakening with negative thoughts, lack of motivation to do any cooking or look after the home, weight loss, symptoms for more than 2 weeks
Lucy visits her GP and is prescribed amitriptyline 25mg at night for a month. Four days later she is admitted to an acute psychiatric ward following an attempted overdose. She has no past psychiatric history. 
    NICE recommend an SSRI for most patients requiring antidepressant treatment. Although the sedative effects of tricyclics may appear to be beneficial in patients with poor sleep, they are associated with a range of other adverse effects such as dry mouth, constipation and blurred vision. Postural hypotension can increase the risk of falls and reduced reaction times may present extra hazards for driving. 

    The therapeutic dose of amitriptyline for depression is around 150mg. Lucy has been started on 25mg daily which is below the usual initial dose of 50mg daily. 

    Lucy has epilepsy and although all antidepressants decrease the seizure threshold to some extent, amitriptyline is one of the most pro-convulsive. 

    Tricyclics are also toxic in large doses (e.g. overdose). No risk assessment appears to have been undertaken to establish whether the patient is likely to attempt self-harm.

        As above, NICE recommend an SSRI first-line for most patients requiring antidepressant treatment. Of these the most suitable options for Lucy would be sertraline or citalopram due to the lack of interactions with anticonvulsants, and because they are less likely to reduce seizure threshold at therapeutic doses. Mirtazapine might be an appropriate second choice should Lucy not respond to sertraline/citalopram or be intolerant of side effects.

      Recent pregnancy
        Trauma of the stillbirth 
        Husband not obviously supportive
        Mother lives over 200 miles away so is geographically distant 
        Co-morbidity (epilepsy)
        Social circumstance (feels isolated) 
        Pressure at work

      If you have the opportunity to talk to Lucy you could inform her about antidepressant treatment including: how it may contribute to helping her feel better, the time to onset of action, the need to continue for at least 6 months after recovery if this is her first episode and the possible withdrawal effects if treatment is stopped suddenly. Consider providing some written information to support these points such as Choice and Medication leaflets (see Information sources). You could also ask if involving her husband in the treatment plan would be helpful.

      As further learning you may like to listen to Sarah’s story of experiencing a stillbirth.