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Andrea Yates and Post Partum Depression
Can postpartum depression become so pervasive that a mother can kill her children? Since this happens very rarely, many scoff at the prospect. Interestingly enough, postpartum psychosis was first recognized as a disease as early as 1850. According to Pregnancy Infonet, (2007), studies on the rates of the disease have shown that the number of women experiencing postpartum psychosis has not changed since the middle. 1800s. Specialist psychologists, psychiatrists and behavioral scientists are discovering that postpartum depression can, if not treated promptly and properly over an extended period of time, most certainly escalate into psychosis. Medical statements and evaluations, insufficient treatment, and failed suicides are issues that must be considered in determining Andrea Yates mental impairment at the time of her crime.
It has been argued that due to some of Yates’ logical and considered actions that these prove that she was sane at the time of the incident. The fact that, on two occasions she refused medication and on another occasion she stopped taking her medication. The fact that she made a “practice run” to fill the bathtub and individually tracked down her children and drugged them to their deaths are all arguments that are being touted as evidence that she had full knowledge of what she was doing.
To understand the concept of Postpartum depression and Postpartum psychosis, one must first realize that the two illnesses are not synonymous. Postpartum depression is described as something that can start at any time within a year of birth. Usually there is sadness, common after such suffering as birth, and of course loss of energy, also a common thing after childbirth. Sometimes there will be an attack with inability to concentrate, especially for first-time mothers and along with that, anxiety about motherhood. All of these are symptoms of postpartum depression. Not every woman experiences these and some may experience only a few of them. However, these symptoms are quite different from those of postpartum psychosis. Catherine Roca, (April, 2005)
Dr. Dan Williams, Psy.D., PA-C, “Peace and Healing,” (2006), describes postpartum psychosis as “very rare.” He goes on to say that “It is characterized by homicidal and suicidal impulses, hallucinations, delusions, disorganized and bizarre thinking.” Dr. Williams further describes some of the consistent characteristics of one who suffers from postpartum psychosis.
“The dilemma is that these individuals usually refuse treatment. This is a medical emergency. If postpartum psychosis is suspected, families should call 911, because urgent intervention is necessary. Medication will most likely be prescribed. The ultimate goal is to preserve. the baby and mother safe.” “Peace and Healing”, (2006)
Yates was first diagnosed on July 21, 1999 as having severe major depression by Eileen Starbranch, MD. This diagnosis came after her suicide attempts. During her week-long stay in Methodist Hospital Psychiatric Unit, she was diagnosed as having severe major depression, recurrent with psychotic features. Additional problems diagnosed were social withdrawal and minimal verbal communications. It was during this psychological evaluation that Andrea Yates admitted to having thoughts of hurting herself or someone else.
Eileen Starbranch, MD, Court TV, Psychiatric Evaluation July (1999) On August 5, 1999, Dr. Starbranch along with Dr. Arturo Rics, MD, had a consultation regarding Andrea’s ongoing care. The findings of this consultation revealed that the onset of her depression began about six weeks previously along with symptoms of psychosis. Much of the documentation that was reviewed by both doctors indicated that Andrea remained reclusive, guarded and still had a persistent, depressed mood. Eventually Andrea responded somewhat to her medication but was warned by Dr. Starbranch not to have another child as this could cause another psychotic episode.
Dr. Arturo Rics, MD, Dr. Starbranch, MD, Methodist Hospital Psychiatric Center July (1999) Another psychiatrist, Dr. Melissa R. Ferguson, former medical director of psychiatric services at the Harris County Jail, testified that according to in her opinion, Yates was suffering from psychosis. According to Dr. Ferguson, Yates told her that she believed the cartoon characters on TV were telling her how bad she was for giving her children “too much candy and cereal”. Ferguson also testified that she believed that Andrea was incapable of understanding the consequences of what she did. Dr. Milissa, Former Director, Harris County Jail.
Andrea Yates had all the classic symptoms of postpartum psychosis. Even if medication was administered, there was little supervision to ensure she was following a doctor’s orders. Her hospital stays were short and therefore not effective in a medically controlled environment ensuring that at best the possibility of her harming herself or others was substantially minimized.
There is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that Andrea Yates actually drowned her children in a bathtub. There is no doubt that the “how” was too terrifying to grasp. Because of the rarity of this condition and its dire results if left untreated, many Americans, women in particular, will judge women like Andrea Yates without compassion for the suffering or the effort to learn and understand the disease. What these individuals should be aware of is that understanding this catastrophic disease does not in any way condone the actions taken as a result of that disease.
In conclusion, the state of Texas is to be applauded in its efforts to recognize this rare, yet debilitating and extremely dangerous disease. The Andrea Yates bill became effective on September 3, 2003 and it states the following:
“Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious disorder that annually affects 10% to 15% of women who have given birth to children. This disease, despite its high prevalence, often goes unnoticed and untreated. In an attempt to address this public health problem, the State of Texas enacted legislation, House Bill 341 (also known as the “Andrea Yates Bill”), which went into effect on September 1, 2003. This law requires health care providers who treat pregnant women to provide them with resource information regarding counseling for postpartum depression and other emotional traumas associated with pregnancy and parenting.”
Blue Corss/Blue Shield of TexasPostpartum Depression and House Bill 341
BlueCross BlueShield of Texas; Postpartum Depression and House Bill 341
(2007) Retrieved September 9, 2007 from the World Wide Web:
Ferguson, Dr. Melissa R. Former
Medical Director of Psychiatric Services at the Harris County Jail. Retrieved September 8, 2007
from the World Wide Web: http://crime.about.com/b/a/257021.htm
Roca, Catherine , Chief, Women’s Programs, (2005) Depression During and After Pregnancy
National Institute of Mental Health, (April 2005). Retrieved September 7, 2007 from the World
Wide Net: [http://www.4woman.gov/faq/postpartum.htm#5]
The Pregnancy-Info Team, Postpartum Psychosis (2007) Retrieved September 7, 2007 from the World Wide Web:
Starbranch, Eileen, MD Court TV
Retrieved September 9, 2007 from the World Wide Web:
Williams, Dan Psy.D., PA-C, (2006) Peace and Healing.
Retrieved September 7, 2007, from the World Wide Web:
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