Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Women Who Kill: Part Two

Maternal Stress Disorders

Mothers are responsible for most child abuse in America that ends in death. The third National Incidence of Child Abuse and Neglect report numbers as high as 78%, and according to Dr. Joseph Deltito, a professor of psychiatry at the New York Medical College, mothers outnumber fathers in the deaths of biological children by seven to one. Often they claim to be victims of a range of disorders from postpartum depression to post traumatic stress to outright psychosis, and they're supported by a wealth of mental health agencies and social groups. Some go so far as to say that society is responsible. Yates had voiced her depressive symptoms, according to Cheryl Mayer, who promotes understanding of such incidents. No one took notice of the potential for danger. It was up to the doctors involved to know about the many cases like this (up to 20% of all women suffer postpartum depression) and to take steps to supervise the condition. When they didn't, it was the doctors who were culpable, not Yates.

"Women sometimes experience serious hormonal shifts which can lead to radical mood swings," said Dr. Tina Tessina to Time. "There is often a very serious disconnect between what women feel after they've given birth (depressed, tired, in pain) and what women are told they're supposed to feel as new mothers (elated, joyful, selfless)." According to her, Yates' depression could have been building for a long time without being obvious (although clearly it was obvious), while Dallas psychologist Ann Dunnewold indicated that such depressions can at times evolve into hallucinatory psychosis.

Yet while mothers who suffer from a stress disorder may win the sympathy of some, not all mothers can fall back on this excuse. One mother who lost all ten of her children eventually shocked the nation with her belated confession.

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