Why would a mother murder her child?
Dr. Michelle Golland: On Sunday morning, July 26th, the police arrived at the house of Otty Sanchez, 33, and found the mutilated body of her 3-week-old infant son, Scott. He had been decapitated, and the police believe some body parts had been consumed by Otty Sanchez. When the police arrived, they found the mother sitting on the sofa, crying. She had apparently tried to kill herself as well. In the week prior, she had broken up with the baby's father. Her family has reported that she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia earlier in life, and was currently suffering from postpartum psychosis after the birth of her son.
This horrific incident reminded me of the case of Andrea Yates, who killed her five young children in June 2001 by drowning them in the bathtub in her house. She had been suffering from severe postpartum depression and psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis is one of the most extreme postpartum mood disorders. Basically, it is when a woman who recently delivered a baby loses touch with reality. It affects between one and two women per 1,000 women who give birth.
The problem is that fewer than 20% of women share with their doctor that they are experiencing psychotic symptoms, and are often misdiagnosed with depression and subsequently given the wrong medication. Women who receive the correct diagnosis and treatment often experience postpartum depression before completely recovering. Postpartum psychosis has a 5% suicide rate and a 4% infanticide rate.
Signs of Postpartum Psychosis
Symptoms usually occur within the first two to three weeks after delivery, but can happen anytime within the first three months after giving birth. The symptoms seem to come on suddenly, and in 80% of cases, happen three to fourteen days after being symptom-free.
• Illogical thoughts
• Refusing to eat
• Extreme feelings of anxiety and agitation
• Periods of delirium or mania
• Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
Who Is at Risk?
Women who have been diagnosed with psychosis, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia are at greater risk. Also, women with a family history of any of the above disorders have a higher risk. If a woman has had a past incident of postpartum psychosis, she is between 20-50% more likely to have another incident with her future pregnancies.
Causes of Postpartum Psychosis
There are a variety of factors that contribute to postpartum psychosis. The most important one is the mother's changing hormones after delivery of her child. Other issues seem to be lack of social support and emotional support. A mother's sense of low self-esteem, financial issues, and other major life changes such as moving or starting a new job may also increase chances of a psychotic break.
There should be a multidisciplinary response to postpartum psychosis. Antipsychotic medication is typically used, as well as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. This disorder must be treated as a medical emergency, and treated with immediate attention by the father and the extended family. The mother may need to be hospitalized and/or separated from her child during the most critical time. The mother should also receive traditional talk therapy and possibly join a support group to deal with the emotional fallout from the postpartum psychotic episode. With effective and quick treatment, most women recover from their disorder.
|Dr. Golland is a USC graduate and a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY#16974). She works with adults, teens and is an expert in the field of marriage and relationships. Dr. Golland has given her expert advice on CNN, HLN, MSNBC, ABC, and Fox news. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two wonderfully exhausting children.|