Postpartum Psychosis and filicide

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Most people I know cannot even imagine what would drive a person to kill their own child(ren).

The idea just seems so horrific that we have use expressions like, “The mother is evil” “That father is crazy” “I hope they lock them away forever because they do not deserve to live” “They are bad” or “She is nuts”.

It seems impossible for us to put ourselves in the parents’ shoes. Heck, we are not even capable of empathy or sympathy for these people. The only emotions that come up for us are disgust, rejection, hate, and revenge.

50-70% of all mothers will experience the “Baby Blues” which, generally speaking lasts about 5 days. (U.S. National Library of Medicine. Postpartum Depression. Available at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007215. htm. Last accessed March 18, 2014). (S, Contag SA. Postpartum Depression. Available at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/271662-overview. Last accessed March 18, 2014).

Postpartum Depression affects women of all ages, economic status and racial/ethnic backgrounds. Any woman who is pregnant or has given birth can develop Postpartum Depression.

 

Infanticide (murdering your infant) is rare but does occur in 1 of 250,000 women who develop a more severe depression known as Postpartum Psychosis. An estimated 5% of patients with Postpartum Psychosis will attempt infanticide or suicide. (Postpartum Support International. Postpartum Psychosis. Available at http://www.postpartum.net/Get-the-Facts/Postpartum- Psychosis.aspx. Last accessed March 18, 2014).

What is it like to experience psychosis? Well, there are two main types: Manic psychosis and depressive psychosis.

Manic psychosis includes (but is not limited to):

  • feeling over the moon
  • feeling like you have far, far, too much energy
  • suddenly you feel like you no longer need to sleep
  • you can see things that other people cannot see
  • you can hear things that other people cannot hear
  • you believe things that just cannot be true despite other people trying to reason with you
  • you can’t keep your thoughts straight
  • you become very irritable or cranky and you cannot control it
  • a feeling of being possessed

 

Depressive psychosis includes (but is not limited to):

  • the strong belief that nothing will ever be right again
  • a deep sadness like you have never felt before (hopefully)
  • walking around unresponsive and in a daze
  • confusion
  • wishing for death
  • feeling worthless
  • hearing things other cannot hear
  • seeing things others cannot see
  • total loss of happiness and joy

 

Brown University completed a 32 year study of filicide (the murder of one’s own child) and found that annual rates in the United States are consistently around 500 filicides (https://news.brown.edu/articles/2014/02/filicide).

Of all filicides, 50% of them were done for “altruistic” reasons such as:

  • the parent kills their child(ren) because they think it is in the child’s best interest
  • the parent sees the world as too evil for their child
  • the child may be sickly or disabled
  • if the parent is suicidal they may worry that their child will not be cared for after they are gone

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922347/

There are many factors that contribute to filicide including a history of mental illness, no social support, a lack of education, substance abuse, no job, no partner, and a history of domestic violence. It is hard to determine who will turn to filicide in these circumstances and who will be able to cope.

But there is hope. There are treatments that can work:

 

  • family education
  • anti-psychotic medication
  • family support programs
  • talking to a trusted therapist
  • anti-depressant medication
  • parenting coach
  • part-time or full-time nanny or sitter

 

If you or if anyone you know is struggling with any postpartum symptoms, PLEASE seek immediate treatment. Recovery IS possible!

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