Regent University College of Science and Technology (Ghana) Why She Killed Her Babies: An Overview of Postpartum Depression and Psychosis

(An article by Dr. Evelyn Owusu, Clinical Psychologist and Lecturer, Regent University College of Science and Technology, Accra-Ghana) You’ve probably heard the stories. A mother drowns her babies, strangles her babies, or kills her babies using a variety of means. We hear this and we are horrified. How can a mother do this to her own child? What wickedness! What a hard criminal! How unfeeling! If you are from an African culture, there may be whispers of witchcraft and demonic influences. This article explains the psychological disorder of postpartum depression and psychosis, and how these might lead a mother to commit filicide or filial infanticide- the deliberate act of a parent killing their own child. Depression The average person understands depression. This is a state of being what is characterized by sad or low moods, insomnia (lack of sleep), loss of appetite, irritability, fatigue, loss of interest or pleasure and feelings of guilt/worthlessness. As part of the behavioral symptoms of depression, there could be hypersomnia (too much sleep), overeating, loss of concentration and suicidal thoughts. The causes of depression could be biological, psychological, and social or environmental. A biological cause includes genetics or hereditary influences. It also includes imbalances in neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers responsible for the functioning of the brain and other operations such as breathing, sleep, heart rate, appetite, mood, fear, etc. Two particular neurotransmitters that impact our mood and which cause depression are called serotonin and norepinephrine. When these neurotransmitters do not function as they should, it can lead to depression. Psychological causes of depression can be related, for example, to distortions (lies) in our thinking. When our interpretation of events, ourselves or others usually fall within negative patterns, this can lead to depression. When an individual feels worthless, hopeless and miserable about themselves or personal situations, these thoughts naturally lead one to becoming sad. This can then lead them to have the other behavioral symptoms of depression that have been addressed. Our environment or social setting can cause depression. Social issues such as unemployment, financial hardships, lack of good social supports (friends, family, etc.), divorce, death of significant others, and unstable family relationships can cause depression. If one is facing a threat of homelessness or lives in an environment of high conflict relationships, these are social issues that can lead to sad moods, suicidal ideations and other symptoms of depression.