While many news outlets carry stories of women who have harmed (sometimes even fatally) their child, there is seldom any attention given to the mental status of the mother.

Media reports of women injuring their newborns fail to focus on larger problem
news Health Saturday, July 28, 2018 - 11:43

On Thursday, a shocking incident emerged from Mysuru of a woman throwing her 15-day-old girl baby into a river. It was reported that the woman was growing increasingly frustrated with the harassment she faced from her husband for giving birth to a female child.  

Tragic incidents like these are not unheard of. In August 2017, a Bengaluru woman allegedly flung her daughter off the terrace twice, ultimately killing the child. It was later reported that the woman was ‘mentally unstable.’ 

The way these stories are reported in the media can be problematic. Often, there is a lot more emphasis placed on the alleged criminal nature of the mother, though it has been suggested that many times, these women suffer from serious underlying mental health issues. Many reports omit any mention of such conditions altogether.  

A number of Indian women suffer from postpartum depression, which if left untreated, can manifest as postpartum psychosis. Postpartum depression is a condition caused after childbirth where a mother experiences symptoms of severe depression - which may be attributed to many reasons like post-delivery stress or hormonal changes. If left unchecked, postpartum depression may escalate into an episode of psychosis. 

“The media really needs to initiate a healthy discussion on these issues. So many of these women suffer from postpartum psychosis or have experienced an acute episode of psychosis brought on by some underlying mental health problem, but this does not get highlighted in the media,” says Dr Akshay Singh, a psychiatric consultant based in Lucknow.  

“Furthermore, the manner in which some of these stories are reported is done so only in a manner to attract more people to read the story and are not done to create awareness about these issues,” he feels. 

Singh added that when television channels sensationalise content for the sake of TRPs, for women who suffer from similar conditions as to the ones portrayed in media, such reports give the sense of a solution. 

“These are women who have been struggling with mental health issues and the way some of these reports are brought out, women begin to relate to the ones they see on TV or read about, and somewhere in their minds, this becomes a solution. They think that if my problems began with this baby, then getting rid of it will solve my problems – that is the mindset they might take to,” he explains. 

Though the numbers of postpartum psychosis in Indian women are not very clear, it is definitely something which requires attention and awareness, according to Dr Swetha Raghavan, a Chennai-based psychiatrist. 

“The onset of postpartum psychosis in women can be a relatively new, post-delivery status, or maybe an aggravated form of an underlying issue. Regardless of the cause, it is something that requires medical attention,” she says. 

While many news outlets carry stories of women who have harmed (sometimes even fatally) their child, only the incident is mentioned and there is seldom any attention given to the mental status of the mother.  

“There might sometimes be a one-line mention of how the mother is ‘mentally unstable,’ but fails to draw more attention to it than that,” adds Dr Swetha. “We need to make people aware of the issues at large, to be able to help them and to prevent such horrifying tragedies from occurring.” 

Postpartum depression is seen in up to 15% of Indian women. "If it is left untreated or if the woman already has an underlying history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, these symptoms may aggravate following the delivery of the child and the woman may experience acute psychosis,” explains Dr Swetha. 

An episode of psychosis can manifest in many ways. Often, the altered chemical mindset of the woman, combined with any social factors (lack of family support, stress etc), may cause her to view the baby with contempt.  

“When an episode of psychosis occurs, the woman is not in her sound state of mind. She may even hear voices telling her to get rid of the baby,” adds the doctor. 

With the right medication, counselling and therapy, postpartum psychosis can be effectively combatted.