If it's to late to help Andrea Yates, who can we help?

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I have been out of the country for almost 18 months. I don't have a TV, and when I do hear radio news, it is usually Canadian news. I had never heard of Andrea Yates until today on this forum. However, some of the comments made got me to thinking about things. As a mother of six, expecting #7, home schooling, etc., I thought I'd share some of my thoughts.

I might add that although I have a very supportive, helpful, loving husband, and though he always took a day or two off work for every baby, he often had to work long hours which kept him away from home more than 40 hour a week. He worked in the air conditioning business in South Texas and in the furnace business in Northern New York. Both jobs kept him working 10-12 hours a day, eight months of the year, and "normal" hours the other four months. There were many times when the children did not see him at all for 2-3 days straight.

I just read "Lassie Come Home" again, for the first time in years. Set in a Yorkshire village, it tells the story of a family that had lived in the same area for generations. When Lassie is taken to the Scottish Highlands (a distance of some 400 miles), the father tells his son he will likely never travel that far. This type of grow-up-and-settle-in-the-same-community mentality has pretty much disappeared in our technologically advanced age. Small towns still see this, but most larger centers do not.

The fall-out from this is that young marrieds are really, truly on their own in many places. They are far from parents, older siblings, grandparents, etc., who could support them emotionally. If the parents are close, they are likely divorced and have their own problems. Young parents may not have a clue what to do with this new baby, but instead of calling Mom, they call the doctor, read a book or magazine, etc. Not that those options are bad; it's just sad that it's the first choice.

Also, we are prideful. Instead of telling real, live people we can see and touch (pastor, friend, neighbour, spouse) about our problems, we try to tough it out alone. Or we go to the internet. We just don't like to admit that we have a problem.

Neighbours should reach out to neighbours, friends to friends, family to family. Every time I have had a child, there has always been someone (usually a group of someones) eager and ready to help out with meals, babysitting, cleaning, etc. For various reasons, we have had to live far from family, but neighbours and church friends stepped in. One church even organized the women--"Shirley's bringing supper to your family tonight, Donna's coming Tuesday. Would you like to have one of the teen girls come and clean? And Judy said to send the kids over to her house if you need some quiet time." Shirley made chicken fajitas, and the children were thrilled with the chocolate layer cake Donna brought. Judy sent home a megaphone with one of my boys so I could sit by a window to rest and still be able to call outside to the children!

I would like to offer some suggestions. Look around you. Do you see a pregnant woman? a family with a terminally ill member? a frazzled young mom? a young dad who's wife just died or walked out? a family who just lost their primary source of income? someone who just lost a loved one? a new mom, whether or not she's had children before? a new person/couple/family just moved in? a newly married couple? All of these people need us, whether they say so or not. If you already know the person, ask to help in a specific way. Don't say, "What can I do?" But rather, "I noticed a buy-one-get-one-free sale at the shoe store. I have to pick up a pair for my son, could I get a pair for your son, too?" Or, "I'm taking my kids to the park today, could I come by for your boys, too? My kids would love the company."

If you don't know the person, start a casual conversation by bringing over a homemade goodie or garden produce. Get to know your neighbours, the other parents at the park, each person in your church. Take your children to a nursing home and hook them up with surrogate grandparents (meet with the administrators and ask for suggestions).

Kids need people, too, with both parents at work. Grandparents and empty-nesters can read books aloud at libraries and day cares. They can take neighbourhood youngsters for walks and offer to be available for latch key children. Be known in your neighbourhood as someone who always has a full cookie jar. Ask the kids to help you with yard work, even if you think you don't need help.

Sure, there's a risk. There always is. But we need to open our hearts to others, so they can get comfortable with us and come for help when they need it. And in the process, we will find that we also have gained a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with, someone who will be there for us when it's our turn to need.

Just some thoughts.

-- Cathy N. (homekeeper86@sympatico.ca), February 20, 2002


Excellent Cathy! Mental illness is not an exact science, and unless you have walked in the shoes of someone who has suffered from it, how can we know what we would do. I have compassion for that entire family. It is a horrifying situation and I just hope and pray that the media coverage will at least save some other child from a similiar fate.

-- Melissa in SE Ohio (me@home.net), February 20, 2002.

Not everyone is comfortable with the "neighbors helping out" aspect, because if not careful, one can get into a "beholden to" situation very quickly. If you are a reclusive (not necessarily hermit, mind you, but not a social whirlwind either) type by nature, so many people around could drive you nuts. In other words, we all learn different ways--some read their info, some like to hear it, others like "hands on" training for everything.

I don't see it so much as prideful as just another way to get help when you read books, magazines, consult the internet, etc. instead of consulting with real live people. Real live people are not always discreet, for example, especially in small towns. Other people discussing your problems over the water cooler or in the beauty parlor is not going to make you feel any better, or proactively solve your situation. I think there should be more hotlines people can call, then they can go on to more personal contact if they want. Just a thought.

-- GT (nospam@nospam.com), February 20, 2002.

GT, I realize that there are people on this forum who have been hurt so much that they would have a hard time reaching out to others. I have personally known people like that, who just don't want to take the risk of getting hurt again. There are also people who prefer to be let alone simply because they are private people.

In making my suggestions, I was talking about giving real, genuine help. I was NOT talking about being a busybody in other people's affairs. Someone who truly wants to befriend someone will understand privacy and not gossip about the person's problems. A person who does not want this type of help can politely decline the offers. Or, they can accept help from one person they feel they can trust, and tell the others they have help already.

I also tried to state that I did not mean to condemn those who read books or magazines. I read for information, myself. I read parenting magazines, health books, etc. I have also consulted with health care professionals. What I was trying to say is that a good mom, grandma, aunt, etc., who has been there, done that, has a wealth of information that is not always tapped into. The reason I mentioned pride is that I have known women, myself included, who refused to ask Mom because we wanted to prove we could do it ourselves, or we just liked our own way best (even if it wasn't really working). I have a sister who has an ongoing problem with one of her children. This child has gone to doctors, psychiatrists, etc., almost all her life. She is a terror at home, yet when she stays with my parents, she is really well-behaved and self-controlled. My sister knows this, but said her daughter just wanted to please them. She said my parents really didn't understand the situation, so she asked my parents to come and stay with them for a while to "help out". My parents reluctantly agreed, but when they tried to help, give delicately tactful advice, etc., my sister refused to even try their suggestions, since my parents are not "professionals".

Also, sometimes we need to learn to accept help. If we refuse help, we can't really say that we did the desparate thing because nobody was there for us. I realize that people who are depressive or have mental difficulties don't think this rationally, but if the rest of us don't at least try to help there will be more Andrea Yates tragedies.

-- Cathy N. (homekeeper86@sympatico.ca), February 20, 2002.

Cathy, what you say is good, for some, but sometimes there's just nobody that will listen, or they want to fix you, when they don't know how, and a lot of people just don't know how to listen Even when you pray, you don't always get an answer because if you're really messed up, you might not know how to listen, or recognize an answer. Also, some people are very distrusting, so if you offer your help be careful to be aware of their feelings. If taken wrong, it could be what the hurting person uses to push himself over the edge. He/she might not be ready for that kind of help. Sounds over-stated, but trust me, it isn't. Walk softly and pray.

What GT suggest sounds cold, but it can be a good place to start. All forms of mental illness-depression, loneliness, self-abuse, suicide, can become your best friend, they won't leave you until you say. But like best friends sometimes do, they will betray you.

-- Cindy (SE. IN) (atilrthehony@hotmail.com), February 20, 2002.

One thing more I forgot. The "beholden to" mentality is also a form of pride--can't take help unless I can give something back. There are lots of people who are unable to give back, yet are in desperate need of help. Shall we ignore them because they can't give in return? Shall we refuse the help we need because we think we can't give in return?

I take for my example the Lord Jesus Christ. I have been reading through the gospels in the last few weeks, and have been amazed again at how many times He was "used" and kept on making himself available. People followed Him everywhere, expecting to be healed, fed, or touched in some way. And He healed them, fed them, touched them. When He sought times of privacy and solitude, the people found Him, and He did not turn them away. Yet when the time came when He became unpopular and was later killed, those same people avoided Him. Yet he still cared for them and never resented them. The word "Christian" means "like Christ". If we would call ourselves Christians, we should live up to the name.

-- Cathy N. (homekeeper86@sympatico.ca), February 20, 2002.

Juat to clarify: Mrs. yates did not suffer from Post-Partum Depression, but "Post-Partum Psychosis" a much more serious disease..in a psychosis, there is a definite break with reality and your mind is full of either hallucinations or delusions or both. Over the centuries of recorded history, women who suffer from this have killed their children. Her psychiatrist took her off her anti- psychotic medication and refused to put her back on it, even after being begged by her husband. ALL of her and the husbands' relatives told the doc that this woman was still very sick..he wouldn't listen. IMHO, if anyone is guilty of anything, it is he. I belong to several medical e-goups and this is the talk of the town there..wait until you read in the papers, etc. what meds this gal was on and for how long, etc...it's a crying shame. The problem with PPPsychosis is that it goes away when the kids are older or gone themselves..so NOW she no longer is ill from this, but has a real depression and who can blame her? So, in the courtroom, she will look sad and all but not look crazy...I sincerely hope that the folks on the jury will come to a complete undertanding that a psychosis is very different from a depression.

-- lesley (martchas@bellsouth.net), February 20, 2002.

Cathy, I did not mean to take negative issue with what you said at all, I just meant to say that it might not work for everyone. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, that was the furthest thing from my mind.

For example, for some people, the church is the last place they would go for help (as in, it would never occur to them in a million years to do so), they donate so others can be helped. Others too have always been "do it yourselfers" for everything, and it also would never occur to them to either ask for help or accept it--they may not think they need help, or they believe that "yes, things are bad, but there is always someone worse off than I am, so I will get through as best I can and be grateful).

As to the "beholden to" thing, I was also thinking in the sense of later being taken advantage of--say you're the only stay-at-home Mom on the block, and people get in the habit of leaving their kids with you all the time-- that can also cause problems (people stress out helping and caregiving too over time).

My suggestion as to more hotlines is so that people can connect with a voice first, and then maybe go on to get more help as they feel more confident. It is very hard to talk with someone face-to-face and say "something's wrong, I don't know what it is, but there's a problem". Body language can convey disapproval and actually push away. It takes a special gift to be able to listen and keep your face and body still. The disembodied voice on the phone, or words on a chat room or forum can also be comforting, provide help now, and provide the spark needed to get other help.

-- GT (nospam@nospam.com), February 20, 2002.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Leslie! That was a very clear explanation of the illness!

-- Ardie/WI (ardie54965@hotmail.com), February 20, 2002.

Cathy, I agree with you. While I felt that the death of Andrea Yate's children was so tragic, I didn't blame her, she was clearly overwhelmed and simply out of her mind. The poor lady was not only coping with all the little children and yet another pregnancy, she was also caring for her terminally ill father. It makes me so mad that she had to do that, why didn't anyone step in and at least lend a hand with the children?? Where was the support for this depressed mother who was trying to do it all herself, perfectly? Why couldn't her husband at least have gotten her a cleaning lady once or twice a week, to ease the work load for her a little.

I don't think men realize how draining it is to be a housewife. The work never ends, there is always more to be done, and then with five little kids running around, and never a break, I am not at all surprised that she lost it.

-- Rebekah (daniel1@itss.net), February 20, 2002.

GT, I was not offended in the least:o) I just thought I needed to clarify things. You helped me by bringing a different point of view. I like when people do that, because it makes me think. Am I sure of what I say, or do I need to reconsider? That is my thought process at times.

About that "only stay-at-home-mom on the block": That was my mom, in some ways, when I was little. She was the only chauffeur available for taking about 10 kids to school and fetching us all home again. She babysat the siblings that were too young for school, and also kept an eye on a neighbour's dog (when we moved, he was stolen). She is still the most hospitable woman I know.

As to reaching out to depressed people: I asked my husband about this on the way home from prayer meeting tonight, because he went through some of that. He says that a lot of times a depressed person will lead a double life so that most people won't know that anything is wrong. He also says that a lot of Christians don't really understand depression, making it hard for them to reach out effectively. I have seen this myself; Christians figure that depression is the direct result of sin. If you remove the sin, you remove the depression. If only it were that simple!!! Depression has a lot more than sin involved many times. Chemical imbalance, a person's personality, the unhealthy influence of another person, etc., all play a part. Even the winter weather, with its shortage of sunlight, affects many people negatively.

When I try to get to know someone I have never met, I usually observe the person first. If I feel like they might be open to chat, I start with mundane stuff--the weather, my children (especially if its another mom), etc. I try to watch from there if the person is open to being a little more serious. If not, I back off or stick with the mundane. One thing I don't want is to make myself obnoxious! A person as got to trust me before they can open up to me, and trust usually takes a long time to build.

-- Cathy N. (homekeeper86@sympatico.ca), February 20, 2002.

Cathy, What you've suggested would have helped *me* immensely. In the seven years since our first child was born, we've had a babysitter maybe 4 or 5 times. Where we live, there's no where to go once my husband gets home from work. For about 8 short months we lived close to family. Now we're in a community with no history or roots for us, and no family. Sometimes I can go a week with physically speaking to someone who doesn't live in my house. Thank goodness for the internet.

As for PPD (not psychosis), I've had experience with that. I recall one night I was brushing my teeth, and the wall behind me started to move closer to me. I saw this in the mirror. This was about the same time I thought aliens were coming to abduct my baby and I every night when we were up for the nightly feeding. (I don't really believe in alien abductions.) My "episodes" were quite hysterical looking back, but at the time I thought they were really happening, and I thought I was losing my mind. I now chalk my PPD up to severe hormone swings/changes and sleep deprivation.

Andrea Yates had a long history of mental illness relating to PPPsychosis. She had attempted suicide, and been hospitalized. She was on a long list of drugs that mess with your brain chemicals. I, too, hold the medical establishment mostly to blame on this one.

-- Rheba (rb@notmymail.notcom), February 20, 2002.

I keep forgetting things I wanted to say. Rebekah, sometimes a husband does not see what is going on in his own house. Things came to a head in our family once, when I had been home all day long, every day, for months and years, and no break. My husband had this idea that we could take care of our own children ourselves, no need for a private date, time for myself, or anything else requiring a babysitter. I was getting more and more frustrated trying to cope with little ones all the time, but felt I could not say anything because I needed to "submit" to my husband's wishes. Finally, I just simply stated (not that calmly:o)) that I had to have a break. I said I had to get out, away from the children, and be by myself. Tom was honestly surprised! Why? he wanted to know. I started talking to him more about life as a mother. He said he never knew, and why didn't I say something sooner? Since then he has been very good about letting me have time away, and we even started using a babysitter so that we could go out together. Now our older boys are at the babysitting age themselves, so we are going to try using them sometimes. On our anniversary last November, Tom woke me up early to take me out to breakfast before the children woke up. We let the oldest one know, then quietly left and had a nice, quiet meal together.

-- Cathy N. (homekeeper86@sympatico.ca), February 20, 2002.

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