Mental Illness, postpartum depression

Into the Depths

It’s become an all-too-familiar image associated with postpartum depression.  A mother, out of her mind due to internal and external stresses, drives her children into a lake.  The reasons vary.  She may think she’s protecting them from an unseen spectre lurking at every turn.  She may be trying to protect them from any harm she might inflict as an unfit mother.  Whatever the motivation, the stories usually stem from some sort of irrational attempt at ‘saving’ the children under her care.

Last week, the body of water was the Atlantic Ocean rather than the ubiquitous lake.  A pregnant South Carolinian woman attempted to drive her minivan and three children into the ocean on Daytona Beach.  Bystanders sprung into action, pulling the children from the van, while the mother, still trying to head into the waves, apparently said, “We’re okay, we’re okay, we’re okay.”  Thankfully, in the end, they all were.

While reports of a diagnosis have not yet been made, I knew instantly this woman’s actions must have stemmed from some sort of perinatal mood disorder.  Of course postpartum was the first thing to pop into my mind, but then I learned she was pregnant.  Not outside the realm, people.  It’s not as if these mood disorders and psychoses obey that post determination like the flip of a switch.  The machinations that power the beast start churning before the baby pops out.

Indeed, this woman’s sister called police requesting a ‘well-being check’, knowing her sister was having difficulty.  The police suspected that as well upon speaking with her, but “conclud[ed] she couldn’t be held under a Florida law that allows for detention of people believed to be impaired by mental illness and who possibly pose a risk of harm.”  They did arrest her after her release from the hospital later that day, however.  With three counts of aggravated child abuse and a charge of attempted murder.

I do not condone the maltreatment of children and most definitely anything that could lead to their deaths.  However, the charges brought against this woman chill me to the bone.  Simply hearing the story – before any facts – I knew she could not be able to exercise right judgment.  Her sister recognized it.  The police officer who interviewed her earlier that day recognized it.  And yet, she is slapped with such a charge?

There are other issues at play.  She came to her sister in Florida to escape a supposedly estranged husband back in South Carolina.  She said she didn’t want him near the children.  The sister said she spoke of demons.  But then she also told police, “she’s … having psychosis or something or postpartum.”  Volusia County Sheriff, Ben Johnson, said “one goal of charging her was to make sure she gets help for any possible mental issues.”

“This is a tragic event. And our goal is to get her into the system so that we can protect the children and take whatever action we need to help her, too,” he said.

I certainly agree that she needs help, help needed so badly she cannot even recognize it.  But is this the way we help those with mental illness?  By charging them criminally?

And what do we tell the children?  The children reportedly told officers, “Mom tried to kill us.”  No child should have to go through such an ordeal.  But I certainly hope all the support staff that come into contact with these children temper their words.  I hope they avoid judgment and stick to the facts: their mother needs help.

Resources (all info and quotes come from the following articles):



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