Andrea Yates, Mental Illness, and the Legal System

Andrea Yates, Mental Illness, and the Legal System
      By Sherri L. Schnipke
      PSY 303 Abnormal Psychology
      Professor Cheri Hansen
      December 20, 2010

Andrea Yates, Mental Illness, and the Legal System
    In Houston, Texas on the morning of June 20, 2001, former nurse Andrea Yates killed her five young children by bathtub drowning. Throughout the trial, it became clear that Yates was suffering from mental illness, raising many questions about how this impacted her understanding of what was right and what was wrong. A brief exploration will be made into the history of Ms. Yates’ symptoms and behaviors, treatments she had received, and an opinion on the retrial verdict that eventually cleared her of responsibility for the crime.        
    Andrea’s initial hints of mental instability appeared soon after the birth of her first baby when she started to have violent hallucinations about “a knife flashing, dripping with blood” and “the knife stabbing someone” (Hyman, 2004). Her condition worsened to where she withdrew and refused to speak, frequently paced, and became fixated on watching the television for long periods. She also dug at her scalp, becoming bald in patches. In June of 1999, she attempted a suicide by overdosing on sedative medication (Hyman, 2004). Even though she was still symptomatic, the hospital sent her home in late June due to limitations on the length of stay that her insurance would pay for. A second attempt at suicide came at the end of July, when she put a knife to her own throat and was cutting herself based on a voice telling her to “get a knife” (McLellan, 2006).
    Andrea had been caring for all five of her young children and her father, who had Alzheimer’s Disease. After he passed away at the end of February, 2001, a severe cluster of symptoms appeared. She would not speak or drink liquids and refused to feed the fifth baby (still an infant) due to believing she was eating too much. She believed she was...