July 19, 2008

How Post-Natal Depression Led to a Mother’s Lonely Death


KATE Chetwynd was receiving help from family, friends and professionals, and yet this was not enough to save her life.

As with many new mothers, the joy of having a child was mixed with depression - but instead of being temporary "baby blues", the feeling became overwhelming, as it does for a small number of sufferers - and led her to take her own life.

Mrs Chetwynd, 41, lived with her husband, Tom, a chartered surveyor, near Forres. She was the second daughter of the late Sir Roderick Stirling, a Ross-shire estate owner and Lord Lieutenant of Ross and Cromarty, Skye and Lochalsh, who died last year, and his wife, Lady Penny.

Mrs Chetwynd had been suffering from depression following the birth of her second son, Alexander, four months ago. She had not suffered from the illness after her first child, William, now two, but began feeling unwell after Alexander was born.

She went missing a week ago after leaving a friend's home in Skye to go for a walk. Her hosts, knowing she suffered from post-natal depression, raised the alarm when she did not return.

A search involving coastguards, lifeboat, Skye mountain rescue team, police and search dogs, ended when her body was discovered by Norwegian holidaymakers near Portree Bay.

A private funeral will be held next Friday, and a memorial service is also planned.

"We had no concept that the disease could be so vicious," said her brother-in-law, Peter Hingston. "This is a ghastly thing and we aim to do what we can to bring it to people's attention."

"Poor Kate had no concept of the grief she would cause by doing such a thing, not only to her immediate family but also to the hundreds of other people who are deeply shocked by her death.

"She was getting treatment; she had spoken to a GP and to doctors on Skye. She was getting the best help that was available. The problem is that not too much is known about post-natal depression."

He added: "There is nothing we can do in terms of bringing Kate back. At the moment we are dealing with the shock of the loss of Kate's life. We are trying to support her family and dealing with the process of grieving.

"It's not until that is over that we can start turning our attention towards trying to find a positive way of helping other people and raise awareness, but that's what we want to do."

According to Depression Alliance Scotland, between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of new or recent mothers have post-natal depression.

Last year a British Psychological Society conference heard how the loss of individual identity a woman experiences after having a baby is similar to suffering a bereavement.

Losing their financial independence, work status and other freedoms has such a profound effect they can find themselves grieving for their former self. The pressures of modern life had also led to rising rates of post-natal depression, the conference heard, as women felt under pressure to "have it all".

The scale of the problem is hard to estimate as many women suffer in silence.

Viv Dickenson, one of the founders of the Bluebell Campaign, which raises awareness of the condition and has launched a free telephone helpline, said: "We are getting better at detecting post- natal depression, but the biggest problem is that it always depends on someone telling you how they feel.

"There is still a stigma and shame attached to post-natal depression and some people have difficulty talking about it. That's why we sometimes are not able to deliver help on the ground in the way we would want to.

"Until a few years ago suicide was the greatest cause of death for all women with a child under the age of one. Although it is not a high figure it's a significant one and that's why detection and as much treatment at the earliest possible stage is important."

Ms Dickenson said the NHS has got better at dealing with the condition. "There are now a lot of integrated care pathways, a number of checks and balances done by health visitors and health professionals.

"But the problem is often when someone is diagnosed, the type of care and help given is very varied depending on what part of the country they are in."

But she added: "The message we try to get over is that post- natal depression can get better. It may not feel like it at the time, but there is a lot of evidence to say you can recover from it."

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