This article is part of the Here. Now. essay series, which seeks to de-stigmatize mental health treatment, and improve accessibility to treatment and support for teens and parents in metropolitan New York.
A devastating, unfathomable tragedy happened in Jerusalem on January 1, the start of the new year–which seems strikingly symbolic. Four children, ages 9, 7, 2 and 11 months, were found dead in a locked room on fire, while their 36-year-old mother hanged to death on a nearby balcony, according to the Times of Israel.
That sounds like something straight out of a horror movie.So, what exactly happened? After the autopsies, two of the older children showed signs of being strangled prior to being locked in a room set ablaze. As of now, officials suspect the two younger children were strangled also.
At first, officials were confused about the mother’s motives, but now it appears the mother suffered from postpartum depression. Dror Schussheim, the lawyer of the father in the Jerusalem tragedy, quoted the father:
“I don’t understand how this happened. There were no warning signs. There were problems after the birth and I knew she was in poor spirits like in the past. I figured it would pass and we would get over it. But nothing would lead me to believe that she would do a thing like this.”
That quote is so indicative of our culture’s attitude toward depression, notably postpartum depression, as something that will just “go away” on its own–which is sadly not the case. Postpartum depression is serious and requires medical treatment. However, according to the Israel Hayom daily, the mom was receiving daily psychiatric treatment. Apparently, the grandmother had spoken with her the morning of the incident, and even offered to come and help her. Sadly, the mother declined.
Three months prior, the mother called local social welfare center asking for information about babysitting services, as noted by the Jerusalem municipality. Sadly, her query was declined, although she was told to come into the center, which she never did.
It’s the kind of event that “makes us all wake up,” said Professor Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, who teaches social work at Hebrew University, who went on to hypothesize about what happened:
“It’s an extreme case, very rare, and we will never know what went through her mind. It was a moment of insanity, and I wouldn’t put this under mental illness or depression because many people who suffer from that are very functional. You can’t learn a lot from such an extreme case. But be sensitive, be involved if you see stress.”
It appears that her friends were trying to help her during the last six months of her life, as seen by posts on her Facebook; it still raises the question of how the signs were missed–which is indicative of a larger cultural problem. Sue Freedman, a Jerusalem social worker with 35 years of experience working in local branches of the Social Welfare Ministry, pointed this out, stating:
“Did someone miss something? Where were the red lights and the people that should be watching a family in distress? Asking for help taking care of the kids was a cry for help.”
According to Rachelle Oseran, a Lamaze-certified childbirth educator in Jerusalem, postpartum depression occurs in 13% of the birthing population–sadly, more than half of this percentage go untreated. This means many women suffer alone, because there’s a stigma to feeling depressed post-birth, as if you aren’t a good mother. This is obviously not the case–and needs to change in order to prevent tragedies such as this.
If you think you or someone you love is experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders, please reach out for help. Start with Postpartum Progress or Postpartum Support International.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.