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Mothers and madness: the media representation of postpartum psychosis


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Goc, NE 2004 , 'Mothers and madness: the media representation of postpartum psychosis', in PT Twohig and V Kalitzkus (eds.), Interdisciplinary perspectives in Health, Illness and Disease , At the Interface: Probing the Boundaries (21) , Rodopi, Amsterdam - New York, pp. 53-66.

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This paper will analyse the restrictive media analysis of postpartum psychosis to a defence narrative in criminal cases of infanticide. From the media’s perspective postpartum psychosis only has currency, and therefore newsworthiness, when it is seen as essential to a reading of the court narrative of a mother defending a charge of infanticide or child murder.
Postpartum depressive illnesses are not uncommon – postpartum depression affects more than one in 10 women and one in every 600 women experience a psychosis (Buist, 2002). Women are more vulnerable to psychosis in the post birth period than at any other time during the female life cycle. In the first 30 days after birth, a woman is 21.7 times more likely to develop psychosis than in the two-year period prior to childbirth” (Wisner, et al, 2003). Because postpartum psychosis frequently represents a bipolar spectrum disorder, mood stabilisation and antipsychotic intervention are often necessary. It is associated with hallucinations and delusional beliefs about the infant and is a psychiatric emergency requiring hospitalisation. The mother must be evaluated and the family informed of the potential dangers of infanticide impulses. (Brockington et al, 1982). This is the personal drama that plants the seed of sensationalised journalism. In media terms the cogent fact that the majority of women suffering from postpartum psychosis do not harm their children is from here on in ignored.
Despite considerable research there is still no clear medical consensus on what causes postpartum psychosis and how it should be treated” (Kleiman, 2002). Add to this a dearth of references for the legal and medical professions on the subject of mothers with postpartum psychosis who kill their children (Spinelli, 2002) and the way is left open for the news media to restrict its discourse to judicial and infanticide narratives of the “Mad Mother Kills Baby” paradigm and to speculate and posit opinion as fact. Media attention rarely moves beyond sensationalised infanticide reportage and while there is no doubt that the high profile media cases of Andrea Yates, Melissa Drexler (“The Prom Mum”), Caroline Beale and others in recent years have increased the public awareness, the focus continues to be on the high drama of infanticide and judicial discourses.

Item Type: Book Section
Authors/Creators:Goc, NE
Keywords: Andrea Yates, motherhood, madness, postpartum psychosis, media representation, journalism, infanticide, child murder,
Publisher: Rodopi
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