The drowning of five children by their mother, Andrea Yates, was a case that forced many to confront an issue that most would rather ignore. Yates was one of the rare cases of women with puerperal (childbirth associated) psychosis who kill their children.
This week’s ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind talks to three forensic clinicians who research and work with women who have either killed or injured their children while mentally ill.
It’s an extraordinarily emotive issue, both due to the cries of condemnation from those appalled by what they consider ‘evil’ acts, and the concerns of others worried that focusing on the issue will strengthen the largely unfounded stereotype of the ‘dangerous mentally ill’.
All in the Mind manages to tackle the issue incredibly sensitively, a rarity in a world where these tragic situations only ever seem to get attention as sensational news stories or political point-scoring.
The programme looks at the sorts of mental states which have led to these tragedies and talks to two female forensic psychiatrists about how they deal with the strong emotions that these cases stir up.
If you’re interested in a more academic approach to the research in this area, psychiatrist Margaret Spinelli wrote an important 2004 article on maternal infanticide in the American Journal of Psychiatry that’s freely available online.
The programme also tackles the difficult subject of female sex offenders and how clinical science is being applied to preventing and treating this subset of the forensic population.