Andrea Yates of Houston, Texas, a mother suffering from postpartum depression, went on a killing spree. The victims were none other than her own five children, all between 7 years and 6 months old.
According to her husband, Yates became depressed after the birth of their fifth child. She stayed home last weekend while their three older boys played happily at a birthday party.
"She was becoming withdrawn more...more robotic in her behavior. She had some nervous habits that were peculiar to her," says husband Russell Yates.
Yates was no stranger to depression. It first struck after the birth of her fourth child in 1999, and she attempted suicide. Since then she had been on a series of powerful antidepressant drugs. This time, though, the medication didn't work.
"I recognized it immediately and we treated it quickly, but what happened was incomprehensible," her husband says.
It is suspected that Yates was suffering from an extreme form of postpartum depression, which lead to psychosis. Postpartum depression, caused by hormonal upheavals and stress after the delivery of a child, is generally treatable.
"That someone would actually come to a violent end, whether it's themselves or their infant, is really quite rare," says psychiatrist Gail Saltz.
Yates' case may be unique in the depth of its tragedy, but postpartum depression itself is not rare. Ten to 15% of new mothers experience some degree of anxiety, sleeplessness, overwhelming feelings of guilt or sadness. Many are afraid to talk about it.
"Women are reluctant to come forward because, of course, society tells you that you should be joyous: You've just had this baby," says Saltz.
Clearly Andrea Yates was not feeling joy. She was in the clutches of a despair that we may never understand.
Yates will be charged with the deaths of her five children on Friday, June 22. Postpartum depression has been used as a legal defense in the past, but it is unclear whether or not it can excuse murder.
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