A transient frenzy?BMJ 1998; 317 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.317.7154.356 (Published 01 August 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:356
- Gwen Adshead, consultant psychiatrist at the Traumatic Stress Clinic and psychotherapist at Broadmoor Hospital
“Deadly Secrets”, a QED documentary on 5 August examines the issue of neonaticide. Gwen Adshead says there is still some way to go in understanding the motivations behind this human tragedy.
In 1902 Dr John Baker, a physician superintendent of Broadmoor Hospital, had this to say about women who kill their newborn children: “This class of crime perpetrated by insane women has not attracted the attention it deserves; the literature on the subject is scanty in the extreme; … the mental causes are insidiously at work for many weeks … it may be called transient frenzy.”
Nearly 100 years later, QED says much the same thing. The programme contrasts two cases of young women: American Twyana, who abandoned her neonatal daughter and then summoned help anonymously, and British Kate, whose baby died and who was only discovered (apparently) when she tried to dispose of the body four weeks later. The programme did not make clear whether Kate had killed the child directly or indirectly, by neglect; both …