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The Reality of Mothers Who Hurt Their Children Due to Postpartum Depression
We’ve all heard disturbing stories about women who – for reasons that are hard to comprehend -- harm or kill their children. In recent years, the media has widely covered some of the most extreme cases of women who hurt their children due to severe postpartum depression. One of the most alarming stories was the case of Andrea Yates, a mother in Texas who after suffering from severe depression and postpartum psychosis following the birth of her five children, killed them all by drowning them in the bathtub.
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The Impact of Post Partum-Depression
According to experts at www.webmd.com, one in eight new mothers experience postpartum depression in the first few months after giving birth. The hormonal changes that are associated with pregnancy and childbirth do affect how a woman feels, and severe postpartum depression – which is more than just a temporary case of the “baby blues" -- can impact a woman’s ability to bond with her baby and care for it in a normal way. In its most extreme state, postpartum depression can spiral into psychosis, a state that can leave a mother out of touch with reality and much more prone to violence against her children. The situation is still rare and it's one that can be exacerbated in women who have already suffered depression and who lack a support system to help care for the baby and alleviate the stress of bringing up a child.
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Asking For Help
Are there steps a mother who is suffering from severe postpartum depression can take to heal her condition before she is driven to violence? Yes. There are many programs available for help -- and today the disorder has “come out of the closet" and can be discussed without shame.
The biggest issue for a woman dealing with severe depression – especially depression so intense that it can lead a mother to hurt her children – is asking for help. Therefore it's important for family members to be sensitive to the demands placed on a new mother and realize when they need to step in to get medical and psychological support.
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Finding Support and Treatment
Counseling is crucial. Many psychologists today specialize in women’s issues and are available to offer counseling for women suffering from severe postpartum depression. Talk therapy with a trained psychologist, plus anti-depressant medications, as prescribed by a doctor, are advised.
Who will get the support that is needed in crisis? The reality is that a mother with severe postpartum depression may be too ill to seek help herself; this responsibility often falls upon the fathers and other family members involved. What’s critical is that women suffering from this harrowing disorder get treatment from a doctor, who can direct their care before harm comes to a mother or her child.
Now let's look at some ways to find help.
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Help is Out There
The Postpartum Support International organization (http://www.postpartum.net) offers numerous free online resources to help mothers and families in crisis due to postpartum depression. The site offers advice for the friends and family of mothers enduring severe postpartum depression, as well as free online chat rooms. These chats provide mothers and dads with the opportunity to ask for advice and counseling with a licensed mental health professional. This service also allows those in crisis to get advice from home and to speak freely without giving out their private information. The PSI site also has a page with a database of regional support groups, crisis hotlines and local Postpartum Support International coordinators who can help to find support for postpartum needs locally. The site does stress that they are not an emergency service, however. Parents undergoing an extreme emergency should call 911 for immediate help.
The National Women’s Health Information Center, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also has a website (http://www.womenshealth.gov) which offers advice for women with postpartum depression and lists numerous organizations that specialize in support for this specific problem.
Helpguide.org (http://www.helpguide.org) is another non-profit resource offered online for people dealing with mental health issues. This website offers extensive information and support for women who are suffering from severe postpartum depression. The site offers advice on treatment, including hormone therapy, marriage counseling and psychotherapy, as well as links to an online PPD support group and to additional information on postpartum psychosis.
Local hospitals frequently provide resources for families in crisis; some offer online help or counseling over the phone. Again, in case of emergency, family members should call 911 for immediate help.
Other websites that offer help for women and families at risk due to post partum depression include:
- www.depressionafterdelivery.com, Depression After Delivery, Inc.
- www.nmha.org, the National Mental Health Association
- www.nimh.hih.gov, National institute of Mental Health
Help is out there. What’s critical is that a mother suffering from crushing depression finds support and care before it’s too late.
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The content of this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.
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Shields, Brooke, Down Came The Rain, Hyperion Books, 2005
Smith, Melinda, M.A., www.helpguide.org, "Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues"
Postpartum Support International, www.postpartum.net,
Women's Health Information Centre, www.womenshealth.gov