On early Wednesday morning, a mother in Steamboat Springs, Colorado shot and killed her nine year-old son before shooting herself in an apparent suicide attempt. Here is a 9 News story on the incident (warning: it is heartbreakingly sad):
While the motivation behind any murder can be difficult to grasp, it is even harder when trying to explain why a mother would kill her child. In reviewing the research from the past 15 years, here are some common characteristics of mothers who kill their children:
1. Most times, mothers who kill their newborns are struggling with postpartum depression.
2. Mothers who kill are sometimes psychotic and having delusional thoughts and hallucinations that lead them to kill their children.
3. Most mothers who kill their children are depressed at the time of the killing.
4. A majority of those mothers who are depressed at the time of the killing are in the depressed phase of Bipolar Disorder.
5. The majority of mothers who kill their children grew up in a physically abusive home.
6. Many mothers who kill their children attempt suicide immediately afterward.
7. A common theme among mothers who kill is that they want to save their children from the evils of the world--they view killing their children as an altruistic act (this is more true for psychotic mothers and less true for depressed/Bipolar mothers).
It is important to note that the vast majority of women who have a psychotic thought disorder, depression, and/or Bipolar Disorder are perfectly good mothers and would never dream of harming their children. But, in situations when a mother does kill her children, the above mentioned characteristics are often present.
My heart goes out to the family involved in the shooting on Wednesday, and to the entire Steamboat Springs community. No matter the explanation, it is hard to view this boy's death as anything other than a senseless tragedy.
Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.