The Science of Infanticide and Mental Illness

According to a study that was undertaken in the United States, Australia and Canada by Dobson & Sales (2000), it was found that killing of infants by mothers with postpartum psychosis was a result of mental illness. It was realized that the high prevalence of filicidal acts was an indication of mental illness before these women committed the crime. By and large, the data on mothers charged with killing their infants proved that the women’s mental state was the major contributing factor to the murder in contrast to other forms of murder for example women charged with crimes such as non lethal child abuse.

Therefore, most women who have been charged with killing their infants have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness or a form of psychiatric disorder such as postpartum psychosis. During the time of crime, the woman is mentally unstable thus not able to make sound decisions and killing of her infant is not premeditated neither is it a willful act. There are some women who have strong religious thoughts on killing infants.

For instance, there are those who believe that it is by killing their infants that she and her baby will have the opportunity of entering an afterlife that is more peaceful than the life that they are currently living. Delusions such as ‘I am not worth to be a mother, and God can take better care of my baby than I can’ leads a mother to either hide her child in a dangerous location or kill her. For that reason, these women do not engage in the criminal acts of killing their children out of their will.

The feelings of worthlessness or poor self esteem cause them to prefer their children dead and with God who can take care of them than with her because she is not good enough to take of the child (Dobson & Sales, 2000). Tragically, there are some women who opt to kill their infants because of vengeance. Some women develop a sense of rage and vengeance against the other partner thus they seek to hurt the other parent by killing the infant. Such women believe that by killing the infant, they are depriving the other parent the opportunity to have a cherished relationship with the new born infant.

Although this can be practiced by women, several cases have been associated with men. The vengeance may not be premeditated as such because depression and stress may force her to perform the act of murder after which she later realizes that the vengeance act has led to the death of her infant (Levy, n. d). Previous surveys on postpartum psychosis have shown that the incidence of the disorder is not high as it occurs in one out of every one thousand childbirths. Most postpartum psychosis cases have been found to be linked to families or in come cases personal history of mood disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression.

It is then the syndrome that causes women to depict emotional disorder because of the arrival of the baby and the limited mental capacity caused by the mood disorder causes the women to kill the infant. Mood disorders may cause the mother to be mildly mentally retarded and in such cases the possibility of unwillingly killing her infant is high (Sadock, Kaplan, & Sadock, 2007). Levy (n. d. ) notes that a woman with full fledged postpartum psychosis temporarily looses her ability to make sound judgment and this can be attributed to mood disorder or mental incapacitation.

The loss of ability to make sound decision explains why they kill their infants hence it is not an act that they undertake with a sound mind but it is an act that results from mental instability. It should be noted however that not all cases of women with postpartum psychosis result to murder of infants within the child’s few years of life. Although majority of them suffer from mental instability that makes them to kill, there are a few who have been found to have killed their children willfully.

For example, women who have been found to commit neonaticide have had their killings characterized by murder of unwanted children which means that the killing was premeditated rather than as a result of mental illness. This happens in a few cases but majority of the women who kill their infants do so because of their depression and stress that causes mental instability (Dobson & Sales, 2000). Conclusion The postpartum period is a period when a new mother experiences symptoms of depression and anxiety leading to instances of postpartum blues, postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis.

It is a period of puerperal mental illness as the woman experiences hormonal shifts and rare and tragic outcome of infanticide by the mother can be recorded. According to studies, postpartum psychosis causes mental instability that leads to hallucinations, delusions, anxiety and depression hence the act of killing the infant. It is on rare occasions that a woman premeditates and willfully kills her infant and in the case of postpartum psychosis, it is the mental instability that leads to infanticide.

Therefore, women who kill their infants when suffering from postpartum psychosis do so when they are in a state of insanity. References Dobson, V. & Sales, B. (2000). The Science of Infanticide and Mental Illness. Journal of Psychology, Public Policy and Law. Vol. 6 (4), pp. Levy, M. I. (n. d. ). Postpartum Depression, Psychosis and Infanticide. Retrieved 15th July, 2009, from, http://www. lawandpsychiatry. com/html Sadock, B. J. , Kaplan, H. I. & Sadock, V. A. (2007). Kaplan & Sadock’s synopsis of psychiatry: behavioral sciences/clinical psychiatry. Lippincott: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins publishers

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