Andrea Yates and Postpartum Psychosis

Andrea Yates, 36, admitted to killing her 5 children June 20, 2001. The children, ages 7 years to 6 months, according to news reports were allegedly drowned in the bathtub. Yates then called the police to request an officer and called her husband at work to come home.

Yates has a previous history of postpartum depression that occurred after the birth of her fourth child, including a suicide attempt in June 1999.

In a televised statement this morning her husband Russell Yates says that Andrea appeared to make a full recovery, though experienced another bout of postpartum depression after the birth of their fifth child in November 2000. This prompted them both to make the decision to hold off on having any more children.

It is estimated that between 70-80% of women who give birth will experience a phenomena known as the baby blues. Theses symptoms usually occur 2-3 days after the birth of a baby and subside within a few weeks. Medications and professional treatment are rarely sought or required for this mild form of depression caused by hormonal fluctuations and lifestyle adjustment after a new baby is born. However, there are more serious forms of depression that are very serious problems that often go untreated or are ignored by many families in the hope that a mother will simply "snap out of it." Postpartum depression does not appear to be related to the number of children a mother has had or her age.

Risk factors for PPD:

  • History of depression, anxiety, panic, obsessive thoughts or behavior, mania
  • Family history
  • Marital conflict
  • Prior episode
  • Low confidence as parent
  • Baby's personality, health or disability
  • Single parent
  • Superwoman syndrome
  • Hormonal risks (thyroid imbalance, PMS, infertility, etc.)

While the majority of the women who suffer from postpartum episodes of depression will only suffer from a milder form known as the baby blues, 10-15% of women will suffer from a more severe form known as postpartum depression (PPD).

Women who experience postpartum depression with have periods of depression and sadness, anxiety, compulsion or despair that they are unable to deal with daily life. Usually, there will be the need for medical treatment in the form of counseling and potentially medications to help with the depressive or other aspects of the illness.

Postpartum psychosis affects an even smaller percentage of postpartum women, about 1 in 1,000. This rare form of postpartum depression is more likely to occur in women who have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or if a family member has experienced these diseases. These women will need to be treated in a medical facility with medications and other forms of treatment. The good news is that the illness frequently responds quickly to treatment.

It is unclear if Andrea Yates was suffering from postpartum psychosis or another underlying psychological condition. If she is convicted of the murders of her children she could face the death penalty. 

Her original trial ended with her being found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. However, it was overturned the next year because of an error. She was retried in 2006 and a jury in Houston found her also Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.

They debated for more than twelve hours over the course of three days in this new trial.

Rusty Yates, her husband, eventually filed for divorce. He has since remarried and says he harbors no ill will towards her.

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