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Ten-year Anniversary of Andrea Yates Drowning Her Five Children

One of the more horrific tragedies in the greater Houston area happened ten years ago today. It was the deaths of five young children — all drowned by their mother, Andrea Yates, who suffered from severe postpartum psychosis. It brought worldwide attention to maternal mental health, but also changed the way society cares for the health of mothers with young children. Ed Mayberry reports.



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One thing that’s changed is the stigma of having postpartum depression. Betsy Schwartz is president of Mental Health of America of Greater Houston.

“We’re far from reaching the level that we need to be, but all of our work is designed to really eliminate the fear, stigma and reluctance that women have in admitting that they have a problem and seeking help.”

Just last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that postpartum depression is experienced by ten to 15 percent of new moms, and chances increase with each additional pregnancy. What can dad do?

“Well, dad can really be observant and supportive and helpful. A new mom feels a great amount of shame and reluctance to admit that at a time in their life when the world thinks they’re supposed to be completely joyful — and they’re not — there’s treatment available.”

Dr. Lucy Puryear established the Yates Children Memorial Fund, which helped in persuading the Texas legislature to mandate that information about postpartum depression be provided to new mothers. She testified at the Yates trials.

“At the trial in the closing arguments, one of the prosecutors said ‘there is no such thing as women’s mental health.’ Well, ten years later, there absolutely is such a thing as women’s mental health, and we have programs all over the country. And it’s pretty much a common knowledge these days that postpartum depression is something that can happen that you need to look out for, and that’s a good thing, because these disorders are treatable.”

Dr. Puryear says for her, the Yates tragedy has been life-changing.

“To see a mom who’s not able to enjoy her baby and not able to take care of her other children — when I treat her and she comes back two or four or six weeks later with joy in her face and able to love on her baby and enjoy the new addition to the family, I know that I have not only changed her life, but I’ve helped that entire family.” 

There were two trials. In 2002, the jury rejected the insanity defense and found Andrea Yates guilty. The conviction was overturned three years later, and in 2006, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was committed to a mental hospital. George Parnham was her attorney.

“She’s doing pretty well. I was up there last week. She’s so well that it’s my belief that the doctors will recommend that she’d be released from in-patient care and that she moves into a residential treatment facility and receives out-patient care.”

The Yates case comes up for review in November.



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