Tragedy highlights seriousness of post-natal depression
The case of the Belfast mother who smothered her infant son while suffering from post-natal depression is surely one of the most tragic to come before the courts in Northern Ireland.
From the facts made public it is clear that she was a loving mother who was suffering from a severe episode of the condition and who committed an act which she now sorely regrets every single day of her life.
She has not only lost her child but has not seen her other son who was two years old at the time in 2014 and has also seen her marriage break-up. The fact that she has been released on bail to await sentence indicates that the court recognises the exceptional nature of the case and may temper justice with mercy.
Whatever the final outcome it is clear that this woman's own actions have imposed on her a sentence greater than anything that could be passed in a judicial setting. She so desperately would love to be able to turn back the clock and hold her healthy baby again. Instead she has to confront daily the enormity of what she did.
Her defence lawyer's comment that she faces a very considerable challenge to rebuild her life is a masterly example of understatement. Hopefully she will have the support of family and friends and also professional assistance in undertaking that rebuilding process.
This tragedy underlines the need for women to be aware of the consequences of post-natal depression, which affects 10-15% of new mothers. This woman, who had trained to be a doctor, had previous experience of the condition after the birth of her first child but it was treated successfully.
Given the prevalence of the condition, health professionals should make every effort to gauge the mental condition of new mothers both during pregnancy and in the weeks after giving birth. Becoming a mum can be stressful for any woman and they should seek help if the natural baby blues deepen into a more serious darkness.