New mum became convinced her daughter had been replaced. She believed the six-week-old child in her arms was not her own but “something else”.
A rare mental disorder known as Capgras delusion, resulted in the mother grabbing a long knife from the kitchen last July and slitting her babies throat.
The mother, from Senegal – who cannot be named for legal reasons – suffered no mental illness during pregnancy or in the weeks after the birth, a court found in a September hearing, reports SMH.
The father noticed nothing wrong until two days before the killing when his wife told him she was unhappy in her heart but did not want to see a doctor.
He sought anti-depressants for her the next day, gave her some and found her much happier. That evening, she discussed the baby’s upcoming naming ceremony on the phone with friends, who also found her “very happy.”
The next day the father came home to find his wife and their baby lying on a blood-soaked mattress.
Charged with murder, she pleaded not guilty, her lawyers arguing a defence of mental illness.
The mother had told forensic psychiatrist Richard Furst that in the weeks after the birth she became anxious and depressed.
“Weird voices” called her and she came to believe her child was “not my baby, something else I was holding and had to deal with,” she said.
“It was quite scary. More like a devil thing I was holding.”
Dr Furst, said this suggested Capgras delusion, in which the look of a familiar person is not matched by the brain’s usual emotional response.
Sufferers are not hallucinating – their visual perception remains undistorted – but they come to believe the person they know has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.
Dr Furst found the Newcastle mother depressed and psychotic at the time she killed her baby. When interviewed by another psychiatrist in May, she remained concerned her baby had been replaced by something resembling a devil.
Supreme Court Justice Robert Allan Hulme found the mother not guilty of murder and sentenced her in September to confinement in a mental facility, where she remains.
According to the Black Dog Institute, one to two women in every thousand will suffer from psychosis after pregnancy. That amounts to between 300 and 600 women each year.
If you are struggling please contact Perinatal Anxiety and Depression (PANDA) national helpline 1300 726 306.
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We recently shared the story of Laura Mazza, a mum-of-two from Victoria, who realised she needed help after fearing she would hurt her son in the grips of PND. Read her story here.
A recent study found that two in five women aren’t aware that perinatal depression was an illness, and almost 50 per cent of women didn’t know what symptoms to look for.
PANDA’s helpline also reports that 60 per cent of mothers feel like they’re not living up to their own expectations as a parent.
Annual data from PANDA’s National Helpline identifies that nearly 60% of callers are affected by the feeling of not meeting their own expectations as a parent.
The 2016 PANDA facts:
•Three in five people are not aware of perinatal anxiety as an illness and almost half do not know what signs to look for
•Anxiety is at least as common as depression during the perinatal period
•There has been an increase in understanding and compassion in the community with 80% of people believing perinatal depression and anxiety is not a sign of weakness
•92% of people believe that perinatal depression and anxiety does not stop a woman from being a good mother
•Nearly 60% of callers report a lowered mood, with symptoms including hopelessness, lacking motivation and loss of joy, while over 65% report feeling anxious, panicked, agitated, angry and irritable
•Two out of five callers have not been diagnosed with a mental illness, meaning they have ‘slipped through the cracks’ in the system and have only received critical intervention and support via the PANDA Helpline.
Signs can include panic attacks, persistent, generalised worry, development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours, abrupt mood swings, feeling constantly tired, withdrawing from friends, difficulty focusing, feeling constantly sad or crying for no reason and having thoughts of death or suicide.
The free National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline can be reached on 1300 726 306, Monday-Friday 10am-5pm EST.
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