Yates Verdict Brings Attention to Postpartum Depression and Psychosis
> 7/31/2006 2:20:16 PM

The story of Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who drowned her five children in the family bathtub, captivated and horrified the country for more than five years. Initially convicted of murder, she was later retried and, last week, ruled not guilty by reason of insanity. Though membership in a bizarre religious cult and a family history of mental illness most likely contributed to her state at the time of the killings, her defense always argued that her case was a clear instance of a rare and misunderstood phenomenon called postpartum psychosis, a crippling disorder that occurs in one or two out of every one thousand new mothers. Most who suffer from this condition improve with medication and personal therapy, but a large number either do not seek medical attention or receive an incorrect diagnosis of postpartum depression. Among those who go without help, the figures are very frightening: five percent commit suicide and four percent commit infanticide.

Though postpartum depression is a less extreme condition, it is also potentially dangerous and extremely common, occurring in an estimated fifteen to twenty percent of new mothers. Actress and mother Brooke Shields' struggles with the condition brought it to the attention of many who could identify with her experiences. Due to a combination of hormonal imbalance and the stresses of a new child, quite a few mothers experience at least intermittent traces of sadness and a sense of being overwhelmed. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, psychiatrist and Baylor College department chair Stuart Yudofsky attempts to differentiate between psychosis, depression, and a simpler form of "baby blues."

We're talking about degrees. Postpartum blues are very common. These are women who have difficulties right after the birth of their children. We believe it's a combination of many factors — the biological factors, the precipitous drop in estrogen levels, as well as sleep deprivation. They kind of feel restless and anxious and have episodic crying. They feel a little guilty because they should be so happy.

Now, we move to postpartum depression. One in 10 mothers experience some degree of this. It usually occurs within days of delivery but can occur up to one year later. The symptoms are the symptoms of depression: fatigue, exhaustion, feelings of hopelessness and sadness. A hallmark is a lack of interest in the baby. Every now and then there is a fear of harming the baby or oneself.

Having a child is arguably the defining point in one's life, and many men and women understandably find it hard to adapt to this pronounced lifestyle shift. Most  cases improve significantly with proper nutrition, emotional support and adequate amounts of sleep (admittedly a difficult balance), but some need medication and oversight in order to move through this phase, both for their own benefit and the benefit of their children. By discussing the issue openly, researchers and public figures can begin to remove the societal stigma that surrounds postpartum conditions and, hopefully, encourage suffering women to seek professional help. With time and understanding, we may be able to prevent future tragedies like that of Andrea Yates and her family.

Thanks to The Trouble With Spikol for the link.

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