It is rare to witness maternal infanticide in the United States. However, cases of maternal infanticide still come to pass. Postpartum mental illness contributes to a high proportion of maternal infanticide cases. This paper will focus on the contemporary, legislative and historical psychiatric points of view on infanticide. The paper also gives a discussion on the ways of promoting appropriate treatment of women committing infanticide out of mental illness and ways of improving the prevention of infanticide (Barak, 2003).
There was an history of psychiatric disorder in Mrs. Yates. Her first reported psychotic incident came after the birth of Noah. She however revealed this to no one, fearing that Satan would be hearing and would come for the children. She attempted to commit suicide in resistance to satanic voices that commanded her to kill her infant. There are three categories of infanticides. Neonaticide is a category of infanticide that occurs when a young woman kills her newborn baby within 24 hours from birth. These young women regard their pregnancy as unwanted. The category brings together two sets of women. One subset has dissociative and profound denial states. On the other hand, the other group hides their pregnancies deliberately (Erickson & Erickson, 2008).
Women who murder their children because of an abusive and violent male partner form a second category. On the other hand, mothers who preoccupy themselves with tasks and distract the attention that they are supposed to give to their children forms the third category of infanticide. In this category, the children die of neglect. In the fourth category, mothers discipline their children in an awry way, abusing them in the process. Purposeful infanticide is the fifth category. In most cases, this kind of infanticide comes due to such mental illness as postpartum psychosis, postpartum depression and schizophrenia. Postpartum psychosis is therefore, going to be the main focus of this discussion. .
Women having chronic mental illness like schizophrenia are more probable to murder an infant due to symptom exacerbation or postpartum stressors that come along with discontinuation of treatment. Postpartum depression may have or may have no link with psychosis. Women with Nonpsychotic depression women are improbable to commit infanticide (Erickson & Erickson, 2008).
In the United States, the reaction of judicial system to cases of infanticide highlights the complexity of the matter. In England, infanticide law gives room for probation. The law also wants the mothers having mental illness and who have committed infanticide to be treated. On the other hand, in United States, “killer mothers” are given death penalty. However, finding Mrs. Yates not guilty due to insanity is true. Contemporary neuroscientific results support the stance that a woman having postpartum psychosis caught committing infanticide needs treatment instead of punishment. These findings claim that proper treatment will dissuade her from homicide again. Psychiatrists have an important task of recognizing the symptoms and signs of peripartum psychiatric illnesses, principally postpartum psychosis. They also have a role in early detection of and assistance of at-risk mothers (Holden, 2009).
The absence of prescribed DSM-IV diagnostic procedure for postpartum psychiatric illnesses promotes incongruent treatment under the law. The psychiatric population should come up with guidelines treating postpartum disorders, promote knowledge sharing between the law and psychiatric, and enlighten society on the effects that mental illness have on behavior and thought so that decisions regarding the treatment and castigation of mentally ill people will not be left (Barak, 2003).
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Erickson, P. & Erickson, S. (2008).Crime, punishment, and mental illness: law and the
behavioral sciences in conflict. New York, NY: Rutgers University Press.
Holden, G. (2009). Parenting: A Dynamic Perspective. New York, NY: SAGE.