This past week, the court case involving a South African woman, Lauren Dickason, who is accused of murdering her three daughters, has put a spotlight on the mental health issues that come with being a mother.
The defence team representing Dickason is using an insanity argument to fight the case and has, to some extent, shown how the 41-year-old had a history of depression and anxiety, including post-partum depression, which she suffered from after the birth of her first born daughter.
We also know from evidence given before the court that Lauren Dickason vented to friends and her husband about her feelings about motherhood and the sometimes resentment she had toward her children.
Both she and her husband, Graham, are medical doctors.
But what exactly is post-partum depression and how could it have played a role in the tragic events of September 16, 2021 - the day of the murders?
“It is characterised by feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, difficulty bonding with the baby, inability to cope and loss of pleasure, as well as extreme fatigue and trouble sleeping (even when the baby is sleeping),” wrote Dr. Hayley Hirschmann from the Morris Psychology Group.
A group of Iranian scientists have conducted a study on post-partum depression and the impacts it has on women and their children. The study was published on Biomedical Central.
The study was carried out on 186 mothers who had recently given birth to a baby.
Almost 77% of the participants underwent a caesarean section or “C-section”.
The information was collected using the demographic form, Quality of Prenatal Care Questionnaire, Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale—21 items (DASS-21) three days after delivery and EPDS and DASS-21 six months after childbirth.
Five common risk factors were identified, namely maternal characteristics, delivery characteristics, psychological factors, social support, and coping strategies.
“Based on the score of the EPDS, 45 mothers (24.2%) had post-partum depression after delivery, and six mothers (3.2%) had post-partum depression six months after delivery.
“With an increase in stress and anxiety and a reduction in the quality of prenatal care, the risk of post-partum depression increases. Therefore, attention to the quality of prenatal care and post-partum stress and anxiety should be carefully evaluated to prevent PPD.
“Psychological support and interventions are recommended to promote the mental health of women before and after childbirth,” the authors concluded.
After a traumatic journey to motherhood, we know from the court case that Lauren gave birth to her eldest daughter Liane` with donor eggs as the couple were unable to conceive on their own.
Liane` was six at the time of her death and Lauren 41, which means she gave birth in the second half of her thirties. She was around 39-years-old when she gave birth to twins, Maya and Karla.
From the data collected in the above mentioned study, and evidence given before the High Court in Christchurch this week, we can deduce that Lauren had undergone an enormous amount of stress before, during and after child birth.
We also know that she was on antidepressants for a long time, all of which could have had an impact on her level of post-partum depression.
Furthermore, the Morris Psychology Group touched on the increased risk of post-partum depression in older mothers.
“Studies have shown no increased risk of depression in older first-time mothers due to their age. But older women do have higher rates of pregnancy complications, such as blood pressure and diabetes, which is associated with higher risk. And older women have higher rates of multiple births, whether they conceive naturally or with the help of fertility drugs, which is also associated with higher risk,” it said.
Are you or someone you know may be affected by mental health? If so here are some important numbers:
The SA Depression and Anxiety Group's 24-hour mental health helpline: 0800 456 789
The SA Federation for Mental Health: 011 781 1852