Seth Perlman/AP
Debra Gindorf in 2004.

Gindorf Case Could Ease Stigma of Postpartum Depression and Psychosis

May 06, 2009 05:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
An Illinois woman serving a life sentence for killing her children while suffering from postpartum psychosis will go free as the disorder gains more attention.

Increasing Awareness of Troubling and Common Disorder

Mental health experts say Debra Lynn Gindorf was suffering from postpartum psychosis when she attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills and killed her two children by mixing crushed pills in with their food in 1985. After spending the past 24 years in prison, Gindorf's sentence has been commuted by Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn, and she will go free this month.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Gindorf's case, which was not addressed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, "underlines how postpartum depression often was ignored and misunderstood" before the disorder became more publicly discussed.

Sarah D. Allen, a psychologist with the Postpartum Depression Illinois Alliance, told the Chicago Sun-Times that in 2006 about 36,000 mothers in Illinois suffered from "moderate to severe postpartum emotional symptoms."

Women today have more information and literature about postpartum depression at their disposal, which can make the problem less frightening in some instances.

Actress Brooke Shields was one of the most high-profile women to publicly discuss her postpartum depression battle. In 2005, her book "Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression" was published, and she gave frequent interviews on her experience.

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In 2007, she spoke about her experience at an American Psychiatric Foundation event: "What I didn't know is that there is a whole range of symptoms between what is called 'baby blues' and psychosis." Shields also called for better presentation of postpartum depression, so that women are not stigmatized for admitting they've experienced it.

Former first lady of New Jersey, Mary Jo Codey, has also been vocal about her problems with postpartum depression. New Jersey now requires doctors to screen women for postpartum depression. The "Speak Up When You're Down" campaign includes televised public service announcements and cards with postpartum symptoms and help numbers.

Earlier this year The New York Times Motherlode blog featured Heather Armstrong, who chronicled her struggles with "postpartum breakdown" in a book titled "It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, A Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita." Armstrong checked herself into a psychiatric ward at her lowest point of postpartum depression and went on several medications. Later, she decided to have another baby. "That's the message. You can get help," she told Motherlode.

Background: Gindorf's case

In 1985, Gindorf, 20, had divorced her husband, and was living with her daughter Christina, who was almost two, and her son Jason, who was 3 months old. According to the Tribune, Gindorf was unemployed, and had no car and no phone. She gave her children crushed sleeping pills, and then took some too in an attempt to commit suicide.

The Tribune said she woke up and found her children dead, then tried to commit suicide again. When that failed, she turned herself in to the police. The following year, a court found her guilty but mentally ill and sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The fact that Gindorf will be released early could lead more women to seek help, but "until recently, sympathy for postpartum moms who killed their kids has been scant," the Sun-Times said.

Postpartum depression was not mentioned by Gindorf's defense team, but since her conviction, "all nine mental health experts who evaluated her determined she most likely suffered from postpartum psychosis."

In 2004, Gindorf asked then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to release her from prison, claiming she should not be held responsible for her children's deaths because she had been suffering from postpartum psychosis—hearing voices, not sleeping—since her son's birth, according to The Associated Press. At that time, a spokesperson for the governor said he would review Gindorf's appeal.

One of Gindorf's biggest advocates has been Carol Blocker, whose daughter, Melanie Stokes, "jumped to her death from the 12th floor of a Chicago hotel in 2001, three months after giving birth to a daughter," the Tribune reported.

Reference: Online resources for postpartum depression


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