Postpartum Tragedy Causes a Nation to Change


Contact: Traci Patterson
Director of Communications
713-523-8963 x 476

HOUSTON, TX (June 13, 2011) — It has been nearly ten years since the occurrence of one of most horrific tragedies in the Greater Houston area. The deaths of five young children Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary Yates, all drowned by their mother, Andrea, who suffered from severe postpartum mental illness, brought worldwide attention, controversy and interest to maternal mental health. While this devastating act forever changed the lives of a family, it also changed our culture and the way society cares for the health of mothers with babies and young children. Prior to the case of Andrea Yates, postpartum mental illnesses such as postpartum depression and, the less common illness, postpartum psychosis were rarely discussed and often misunderstood.

“What happened to the Yates’ is a tragedy that should never happen again to any child, mother or family,” said Mary Parnham, chair of the Yates Children Memorial Fund Advisory Committee at Mental Health America of Greater Houston. “We have worked tirelessly for a decade to educate as many people as possible to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of postpartum mental illnesses to help keep mothers and their children safe and well.”

In 2002, George Parnham attorney for Andrea Yates, his wife Mary and a host of advocates including Maureen Hackett and mental health professionals such as Dr. Lucy Puryear established the Yates Children Memorial Fund at Mental Health America of Greater Houston; and for a decade, they and a number of others have volunteered to educate mothers, families and those who encounter mothers to recognize and treat postpartum mental illnesses.

“It is important that communities everywhere, especially our decision-makers and public officials, are informed and educated about the effects of postpartum mental illness and that good education, treatment services and even legislation is in place to protect the wellbeing of both children and their mothers,” said George Parnham.

In the years following the trial, the advisory committee of the Yates Children Memorial Fund at Mental Health America of Greater Houston has facilitated or created initiatives that have made significant change in the mental health of mothers in Houston and everywhere. The partial timeline below captures some of the advances made locally and in Texas by the advisory committee and a host of collaborators:

• 77th Texas House of Representatives passed HB 341 (The Andrea Yates Bill) mandating that information about postpartum depression and resources be provided to new mothers (2003)

• “Your Emotions After Delivery” brochure developed and printed in English and Spanish (2003) and translated into Vietnamese (2004)

• Mental Health America of Greater Houston’s Responding Effectively: A Mental Health Curriculum revised to include education and training on maternal mental illnesses (2004)

• Co-sponsored nurses conference on perinatal mental health with the Houston Area Collaborative Perinatal Program

• Sponsored first Women’s Mental Health Conference in Houston for healthcare professionals (2005)

• Texas Department of Health distributes, “Your Emotions After Delivery” educational brochures statewide (2005)

• Launch of intensive outreach campaign on postpartum depression to hospitals, clinics, and physicians (2005)

• Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) launches staff education program on postpartum depression and screening methods for low-income mothers (2006- ongoing)

• Planned and hosted four-day Postpartum Support International conference in Houston attended by health and mental health professionals, mothers and family members from the U.S., Canada, Italy, Argentina, and Columbia (2008)

• Distributed more than one half million, “Your Emotions After Delivery” educational/depression screening brochures in Spanish, English and Vietnamese (2003 – 2010)

• Trained more than 1000 professionals who work with new mothers on perinatal mental illnesses and postpartum screening and referral (2006 – 2010)

“Research shows that maternal depression is associated with long-term cognitive, emotional, and social problems in children,” said Betsy Schwartz, CEO of Mental Health America of Greater Houston. “It has been quite important to our advocacy to educate mothers, families, community leaders and elected officials about how the mental health of mother directly affects the health, safety, development and overall wellbeing of their child.”

In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics indicated that postpartum depression is experienced by 10-15% of women and carries risks to both mother and baby and stressed to its member pediatricians to begin screening moms at new baby well checks to prevent a host of problems. Untreated maternal depression can cause negative outcomes for children, but treatment of a mother’s depression can improve her own functioning and quality of life, as well as that of her child.

Locally, in 2010 the Yates Children Memorial Fund at Mental Health America of Greater Houston launched its Postpartum Depression Prevention Toolkit pilot program collaborating with more than 200 pediatricians to focus on outreach, screening and training strategies for pediatricians and their staff to help identify mothers at risk of developing postpartum depression.

According to Schwartz, this is a core piece of the program to include “awareness and professional training opportunities for professionals and paraprofessionals who care for women during and after pregnancy as well as those who care for their babies. They are among the first line of contact that many women encounter and are often able to identify mothers who may have a postpartum mental illness earlier and help them to receive appropriate treatment sooner.”

View a decade of milestones which have impacted the mental health and wellness of countless mothers and children in Houston and everywhere.


Category: press release