The Casey Anthony Murder Trial: Are Mothers Who Kill Mentally Unstable?

With my son home sick, the hands that should have been busily typing away on my laptop were otherwise occupied rubbing his back and holding a bucket. Because I was not able to get my daily fix of literary lamenting, I turned my attention to the next best thing, the Casey Anthony murder trial.

Maybe it is because I came of age during the OJ Simpson trial, or perhaps I just possess the same innate need for social gossip as the hundreds of people lined up outside the Orange County courthouse every day, but the lure of focusing on a media magnet, especially one accused of a mind bogglingly horrific act, is too much for me to refuse. So I plugged in to live coverage, and began watching and listening. Within seconds, I was hooked. I watched as this seemingly normal, rather attractive young mother sat quietly beside her attorneys as they battled for her life. She seemed composed, self-assured, and quite unflappable. But when they played the 911 recordings and the jailhouse tapes, and I heard the anxiety, frustration, and apparent disconnect in her voice, a new picture developed.

I am a mother to three wonderful, loving and extremely patient children. And as a mother to three children, there have been many days when my voice has reached the pitch I heard on the tapes in that courtroom. There have been times when I have said mean things, turned a cold shoulder, and dare I say it, ignored my children. I would not go so far as to say that I have neglected them. But because I struggle with thoughts of guilt born from my many depressive episodes, I am glaringly aware that my children have not been the center of my attention all of the time. They have been fed, clothed and bathed (most of the time) and they have always been kept safe. But there are definitely times when I have to muster up the desire to interact with them.

By some small miracle I never had post-partum depression, but I can understand the depth of isolation, despair and hopelessness that it encompasses. I am sure that having those feelings immerge when a new budding life is reaching out to you with open, unconditional love, must be intolerable. If you have ever fallen into a major depressive state that is not related to post-partum, maybe you have had the same feelings I have had as I watch these mothers on trial for their lives. Most people see them as monsters. I see more.

Susan Smith rolled her car into a lake with both of her young boys inside on October 25, 1994. She was suffering rejection from a boyfriend. Andrea Yates drowned all five of her beloved children in the family bathtub on June 1, 2001. She was suffering from depression at the time. Lashandra Armstrong drove her minivan into the frigid Hudson River with all four of her children in it on April 12, 2011. Her oldest son escaped. She had been suffering from paranoia and felt threatened by the father of her children. Maybe it is because I have dealt with depression. Maybe it is because I can honestly say I understand what it feels like to be on the precipice of insanity. Maybe it is because I can, in a very different way, understand. I can understand being at the mercy of overwhelming feelings. I can understand not being able to put certain thoughts and worries out of my mind.

When I hear of a mother committing one of these unfathomable acts, something stirs inside my soul. I cannot be sure if it is anger, rage, sorrow, grief, or perhaps even pity. Was there no clues leading up to the fateful day? Did anyone recognize symptoms of mental instability? Were there blatant cries for help that went unanswered? When a person is in the grips of mental sabotage, she is often unable to throw herself a lifeline. Who is to blame for these acts? The law does not allow an oblivious husband or aloof partner to be charged for their lack of action. A clinician cannot be prosecuted because they did not see the train coming down the tracks, and rightly so. But for those people who have always been an unloaded gun, when the mental monster inside chooses to fully load the chambers, the only answer is to punish the weapon.

Some of these people receive not guilty verdicts by reason of insanity. Others are just found guilty. Either way, there are no winners. Children are dead. Mothers are sent to rot in prison. Families are left in ruins. And the mental health profession suffers the heat of the spotlight. Clinicians are blamed for not seeing signs and offering help. And legitimate illnesses are twisted, tried and often turned into fodder for water cooler gossip and best-selling books, leaving those suffering afraid and unwilling to reach out for help. The whole process undermines our ability to determine who is truly ill and push for better interventions and awareness before things like this happen.

And perhaps it is because of my own struggles that I will tune in for the verdict of Casey Anthony. Maybe she didn’t have depression, or narcissism, or any pre-printed psychologically correct label du jour. Maybe she is just a pathological liar (will that be in the DSM-V?). But one thing I know: if she did kill her child, then I don’t think anyone of us could call her mentally stable.

© Copyright 2011 by Jen Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dolly


    June 6th, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    This story of this supposed mother has baffled me and made me angry from the word no. For one thing that fact that she is guilty should not even have to be argued because there is not anyone in their right mind who would say that she did not at least play some part in the harming of this child. Also the fact that she got away with it for so long is also troubling. She hurt that baby and evrybody knows it. So yeah, for me she is a monster, beyond sick. And any mom that could do this to her own child, does not deserve any further courtesies from the court or the law.

  • Andreas Marshall

    Andreas Marshall

    June 6th, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    I don’t believe in a defendant being not guilty because of insanity, especially if you cover up the death. If you have the mental capacity to cover up the death, you know well what you did and you deserve the full wrath of the law. She’s as guilty as sin, whatever label she ends up with.

  • larry


    June 6th, 2011 at 11:53 PM

    all the moral things need to ve kept out of the legal procedure. a murder is a murder and a multiple murder is a multiple murder. if a mother kills her kids then she should be convicted with proof and the legal course of action should continue. mothers murdering their kids is not an everyday affair and paying too much attention to it will only make us think negative.

  • Maura


    June 7th, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    casey Anthony is nothing but a liar. All you have to do is look at everything that she has done in her life since the age of accountability and you will see a definite pattern there.
    \She has never been able to hold down a job. She had a child out of wedlock who she obviously did not want. She has been in relationship after relationship, none of which sound like they ended on very good terms.
    She really seems to be the kind of woman for whom the world must always revolve around her, or otherwise she is going to blow. Think that is maybe what happened here? She was a little tired of sharing her own spotlight with someone who in her eyes was dragging her down?

  • Daniel Elvin

    Daniel Elvin

    June 7th, 2011 at 11:56 PM

    Mothers who kill their kids need not be mentally unstable.There have been cases wherein mothers(and fathers) have killed their kids and then gone on to commit suicide because of some problems in the family.They think it is better to kill their kids and send them to a better place than to leave them behind here at the mercy of this nasty and cruel world.

    While it may seem like a brutal thing to do,I think there is love even in such an action.I’m not speaking of this particular case but about parents killing their kids when there’s a big problem upon the family.

  • Cyn F.

    Cyn F.

    June 8th, 2011 at 9:50 PM

    She’s a murderer and she deserves to go to the same place as Judy Buenoano, by the same method. She wasn’t insane. She is a liar who immediately tried to blame her father.

    If you have the brains to try and deflect the blame, you’re not so mentally unstable that you cannot stand trial as competent in my opinion. And shame on her for attempting to bring her father into this.

  • Jacquie Mitchell

    Jacquie Mitchell

    June 9th, 2011 at 1:30 AM

    No mother would refrain from reporting their child missing if they were gone for hours, let alone a month! Especially one so young. I don’t need to hear any more evidence than that to convince me of her guilt.

    She needs help, undoubtedly. The only time I’ve seen her emotional is when it’s all about her and how she’s being treated.

  • Up, Down and All Around... with Jen :-)

    Up, Down and All Around... with Jen :-)

    June 9th, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    Well it seems the evidence in this case, and in your comments, is quite overwhelming. The real tragedy here is that a child is lost forever. Perhaps that is why there is so much fascination, out of empathy for the loss. However, if the media chose to focus more of its attention on positive news, maybe we would find ourselves glued to the television when a dying child receives a heart transplant, or an orphan is rescued by being adopted into a loving family. Tragedy, trauma and even narcissism seem to attract our focus like nothing else.

  • Serge M. Manheim

    Serge M. Manheim

    June 11th, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    Jen, to my ears you make it sound like sending her to prison would be a bad thing. If she rots in prison for killing her daughter and covering it up, then justice has been served.

    Anyone who is cowardly enough to murder a kid is a monster that has no place in society. Would you want her living next door to you and your children?

  • Nigel J.

    Nigel J.

    June 11th, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    Those who claim they were mentally ill when they killed another should have to undergo psychiatric treatment, and -then- serve the entire prison term right afterwards when they are deemed fit enough.

    It shouldn’t be a case of either/or.

    I feel so sorry for her parents having lost their granddaughter and now having to go through all this trial. R.I.P. Caylee.

  • bensullivan


    June 13th, 2011 at 12:03 AM

    I do wonder what goes through the mind of a lawyer when they’re defending the likes of Casey Anthony when there’s a mountain of evidence that point to her guilt and it just keeps piling up and up. When they need to keep defending a clearly-guilty defendant the whole time, it can’t be easy.

  • Susan


    June 15th, 2011 at 9:45 PM

    I’m not familiar with this specific case. But as a mother who suffers from bipolar and experienced postpartum depression after the birth of twins, I think I agree with the author.
    I have never tried to hurt my children, but I have willingly checked myself into an institution (when boys were 2 years old) for a few days. I was fortunate to have a supporting family (or sister in this case). I can’t say that I know exactly what was going through the minds of this mom or the others that were mentioned, but I can tell you that if it was anything near what I personally experienced it was anything but sane.
    Regardless, now imagine having to live with yourself for the rest of your life if you killed your child – that’s exactly what we make these women do once we finally do get them medical treatment. What is physical incarceration in comparison to mental incarceration? Maybe we need a ‘Help Mom’ line like the suicide line. Or rather, we need to make mental health care more accessible to mothers.
    When’s the last time you tried making an appointment to see a psychiatrist that you aren’t already a patient of? Have you tried to get help through your local MHMR? Do we teach new moms about postpartum or the possibility of other mental issues after childbirth? Do we tell them it can take up to 2 years before the onset of either? Do they know their gynecologist or regular physician can also help with these issues?
    Lastly, how do we as a society treat someone with a mental condition? Do the negative perceptions we have of someone with a mental illness make you want to get diagnosed? Probably not, it usually takes something pretty dramatic for people to ask for help – oh, but wait, then they can’t get an appointment for at least 3 months, but probably more like 6 months. Wait 3 months and then let us know if you are still in the right state of mind that you could actually make the appointment for yourself…..Mental health issues are a disease just like anything else – cancer, diabetes, Aids, none of asked to be sick, we were born that way just like you weren’t. Show some heart even if you don’t understand it. In the end, you too will be judged by your maker – hopefully for you compassion, empathy, and forgiveness aren’t on his checklist.

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