Media Alert: STOP Tying Murder to Postpartum Depression

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Members of the media, I implore you. Please stop assuming that every time a woman kills her child it must be because she has postpartum depression. Not every murder of a child committed by a woman has to do with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. In fact, generally speaking, almost no infanticides are carried out by women with PPD or postpartum anxiety, while it’s true that a small percentage (but certainly not all or even most) are carried out by women with postpartum psychosis.

Why must you IMMEDIATELY (yes, I’m shouting!) bring up PPD upon every new incidence of child homicide? Could you not wait five minutes and try to find out more about the person and her situation before mentioning PPD? Could you not take the time to inform yourselves that women with postpartum depression do not commit infanticide?

First, we’ve got Kyron Horman’s stepmother, who the media has assumed out loud has PPD and is responsible for the fact that Kyron has been missing for weeks. ABC reported that “while there is no confirmation of their claim, Kyron’s parents said they believe postpartum depression could be a factor linking the stepmother Terri Horman to Kyron’s disappearance.” The headline “Is Kyron Horman’s Disappearance Tied to Stepmom’s Postpartum Depression?” was then spread out across the internet.

Terri Horman was 19 months postpartum when Kyron disappeared. Perhaps she did have PPD, and perhaps it went untreated or her treatment was ineffective. Perhaps she eventually became psychotic. Perhaps she was psychotic before she ever had a baby. Perhaps she is responsible for Kyron’s disappearance. Perhaps there’s some other reason he’s gone missing. I don’t know. Neither does the media. Yet they still feel comfortable jumping to the conclusion that these things happen because of postpartum depression. I repeat, women with postpartum depression don’t kill their children. Equating postpartum depression to postpartum psychosis leads moms to needlessly suffer, as they become scared for their lives and horrified by themselves when the truth is 99.whatever% of them will never do anything to harm anyone, and aren’t in danger of doing so.

Now we’ve got the woman in France whose eight babies were found buried in her backyard. So the first thing CNN does — in it’s very first story on the case of which I’m aware — is go find someone who will say it could be because of PPD.

“Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford told CNN that very little was known about the circumstances of infanticide because it was a taboo subject …

Postnatal depression could also be a possible contributory factor, she said.”

Probably not. It’s possible postpartum psychosis played a factor, but not PPD. The woman, Dominique Cottrez, has admitted to killing them and says it’s because she just didn’t want any more children. No mention of depression.

I just wish there wasn’t an automatic correlation made between murder and PPD. Every. Single. Time.

Women with postpartum depression are not psychotic. They don’t have delusions. They aren’t hallucinating. They aren’t convinced their child may be the devil, or an angel sent to save the world. They don’t kill their children. Period.

Update: Thank you, New York Times, for not speculating.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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Comments

  1. Amber @Beyond Postpa says:

    Thanks for posting on this. I knew you would do it beautifully and you did!
    I hope someone in the media reads it and gets the point, but at the very least (which is awesome) you'll remind moms with PPD that having a mood disorder doesn't mean you are on the path to becoming an abuser or murderer…in fact, if you are reading this then you are working at getting the help and support you need to get better and are probably on the path to a great future as a great mom.

  2. K A Bannister says:

    I totally agree. When I was hospitalized with PPD the doctor would not release me and he invoked all those "cases in the media" as the reason. I was hospitalized initially because I wanted to hurt myself – at my sickest I could never hurt my son. That is psychosis and there needs to be education on the difference…

  3. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    If he didn't want to release you because you wanted to hurt yourself, I could completely understand that. But if you hadn't been psychotic or had any symptoms of psychosis then I'm not sure why he used the "all those cases in the media" argument.

  4. Amen! I think this is complete proof that there is still a stigma out there. It explains the look people would get on their face when I told them about my PPD and PPA, a look of pity, a look of worry. Keep on educating Katherine!

  5. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Exactly. All these moms reaching out for help on my blog or yours are showing how much they care for both themselves and their children … how much they want to be better.

  6. I know I was terrified to seek treatment at first because I was afraid someone would take my daughter from me. That I wasn't "fit" to be a mom. Media reports like you mentioned might make women LESS apt to seek help if they worry they will be penalized for seeking treatment. They are terrified of what they might do if they don't get help (however unlikely that is) and equally terrified of what might happen if they do get help.

  7. Polly Hansen says:

    Dear Katherine,
    You write…"the truth is 99.whatever% of them will never do anything to harm anyone, and aren't in danger of doing so." Has there actually been research to verify this statistic or any statistic, for that matter regarding PPD and child abuse? Are some women who commit child abuse, and there are varying degrees from screaming and not hitting to spanking to the worst, possibly suffering from PPD? Why is it that nearly all women with PPD have such tremendous self control? Has this been substantiated?
    I ask because I did not. I healed and so did my children. It was truly awful. That was years ago. My children are grown and gorgeous, but I cannot, nor do I wish to bury what in fact happened. I am concerned for women who may be suffering from PPD, coupled with depression and perhaps past abuse they themselves suffered as infants or children. What of them/us? I fear there may be many women unspoken for, who have lashed out at their children and feel horrible for it, but are afraid to seek help because they fear being villainized and ostracized.

  8. I am jumping up and down right now, so happy that you are mentioning this. It has been making me bonkers!
    I don't get why/how media can do this in cases like the Kyron one, yet in situations like Britney Spears acting all crazy like she did, no one brings that up. Was it because she didn't gruesomely murder her children? Blah… And I know it has never been confirmed with Britney Spears having it, either, but I'm just sayin'… The media sure can pick n choose what they want to sensationalize, right?
    It bugs…

  9. I agree completely. It definitely sensationalizes the worst aspect of an illness, and something that is certainly in the small minority statistically speaking. I know I need to be better about sharing my own story of postpartum psychosis (which Katherine was nice enough to let me do on here) to show that even in extreme cases there are more often very positive outcomes when you get the help you need. We need to get the good stories out there to drown out the negative ones and encourage women to not be afraid to ask for help if they are experiencing some scary symptoms.