Wed | Jun 26, 2019

Ruth-Ann Brown | Baby kidnapping fever: A matter of the mind

Published:Saturday | March 2, 2019 | 12:10 AMRuth-Ann Brown/Guest Contributor

With the country following the abduction cases of two newborns recently, and Peta-Gaye Ffrench – the woman charged with the second kidnapping – to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, many may wonder how great a role does the mind play in committing such a crime.

Ffrench, who appeared in court to be ‘smiling at court officials and lawyers’, was remanded after stealing a day-old baby from the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston. However, her lawyer, Rachael Donaldson, is asking for her client to be evaluated.

There is no debate that having an unsound mind can possibly result in one participating in heinous crimes. However, one must not forget that experiencing trauma such as a miscarriage, as with the case of the accused, and the death of a child, could be the source of such instability.

In light of the fact that the two cases of kidnapping in January were only weeks apart, there are those who believe that the publicity of such crimes through the media could have sparked the repeated crime. The understanding is that the popularity surrounding the crimes might influence other women to follow suit, believing that snatching a baby that they didn’t give birth to could be the answer to their prayers – a bundle of joy in their lives.

However, in a recent Gleaner article, psychiatrist and professor emeritus of psychiatry at The University of the West Indies, Frederick Hickling, contended that the “pressure society places on women to have children could be one of the factors”. There is a cultural notion that some women believe having a baby makes them feel ‘complete’.

Furthermore, not all individuals who suffer trauma are persuaded to carry out similar crimes, therefore, the publicity of the cases of kidnapping through the media cannot be solely blamed for the repeated crimes that started the year.

There is no doubt that the loss of a child through miscarriage and being reminded of one’s inability to have children can greatly affect the mind, resulting in an abduction of another person’s child.

Psychiatrist Hickling says, “There are certain kinds of mental illnesses that would make women want to do that kind of stuff. In other words, if they become mentally depressed enough, they could attempt that kind of situation. The other reason, psychologically, is that they have some form of personality disorder, where they don’t have any children and they just see an opportunity and they take it.”

POST-PARTUM DEPRESSION IS SERIOUS

According to the American Psychiatric Association, post-partum depression is a serious, but treatable medical illness involving feelings of extreme sadness, indifference or anxiety, as well as changes in energy, sleep, and appetite experienced during and after childbirth.

So, is there a solution to address and possibly prevent future abductions?

One possible solution for this worrying trend is to provide compulsory bedside post-partum counselling for hurting women. Though trauma affects people differently, there’s a probability that it might leave a scar and a world of hurt.

Similar to the way in which the Registrar General’s Department provides bedside registration when a mother gives birth to healthy baby, a counsellor should be present when a woman unfortunately suffers a miscarriage or a stillbirth.

Does such a programme already exist? One doctor says to some extent.

“We speak to them first, but then if they need additional help, it’s our duty to refer the parent or the mother to get additional help, like from a psychologist. To be honest, is it done all the time? I’m not sure,” explained a doctor who asked to remain anonymous.

Implementing an effective programme to counsel parents suffering from post-partum depression and other types of grief regarding newborns could possibly lessen future cases of abduction and save other parents from similar trauma.

The focus, therefore, should not only be to clamp down on hospital security, although that is an issue of concern, but to also prevent future crimes through counselling.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rbrown32@stu.ncu.edu.jm