The Gazette (Montreal)

Thursday, February 28, 2002

Column misses underlying issues in Yates case

Letter to the Editor
Montreal Gazette

Tommy Schnurmacher's Feb 24 column "Women are getting away with murder" was a meaningless rant based on half-truths and the selective use of statistics.

In his opening reference to the alleged gender bias in the Andrea Yates case, Mr. Schnurmacher argues that "if a depressed father took five of his children and drowned them one after the other in the bathtub, he wouldn't be receiving much sympathy." This may or may not be true but is irrelevant to the Yates case, which involves a woman suffering from severe depression with psychotic features.

While depression is a disorder in which individuals experience extreme sadness and loss of pleasure in everyday activities, depression with psychotic features has the additional symptoms of hallucinations, delusions and a break from reality. Mr. Schnurmacher uses the terms depression and psychosis interchangeably, perhaps in an attempt to distract his readers from the fact that most of his arguments are baseless.

Mr. Schnurmacher then argues that we should be more concerned about the mental health of men than of women, given that the majority of suicide deaths in 1998 were white men. These statistics are accurate but do not tell the whole story. In fact, women suffer far higher rates of depression than men and make more suicide attempts. Men, however, use more violent means than women when attempting suicide and thus make up the majority of suicide deaths.

What is perhaps more disturbing than Mr. Schnurmacher's careless use of psychological terminology and mental-health statistics is the fact that he has used his column as a forum for misogynistic whining rather than calling attention to the most serious underlying issues of the Andrea Yates case. This tragedy points to the obvious fact that more research needs to be conducted on the etiology and treatment of postpartum psychosis.

Perhaps more important, the murders of the Yates children highlight the need for support of the mentally ill. Andrea Yates might very well have been a victim of the mental-health system, and as Montrealers who are now faced with the impending disappearance of psychiatric hospital beds, it is time we pay attention.

Shari B. Mayman
Marlene R. Taube
Ph.D candidates in clinical psychology, Concordia University

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