When Mental Illness Leads to the Unthinkable

Credit: Snopes Crime

As a mother, my number one priority in life is to protect my children and keep them safe. The bond between a mother and her child begins very early on and while we may not always agree with our children or approve of their behavior, we ultimately put those things aside because of our love for them.  Even as a mother who has suffered from anxiety and depression, my love for my children has never wavered.  They have always been my driving force to succeed. And maybe it’s because of this, that I find the story of Christy Sheats so haunting.

Several weeks ago, a beautiful woman who had a kind and loving reputation, suddenly snapped and murdered her two daughters in the front of the family home.  It is alleged that Sheats suffered from severe depression and spent time in the hospital following multiple suicide attempts.  It also alleged that there were marital problems and that she murdered her children to cause her husband to suffer.

I don’t know how much of this was true as Christy Sheats was shot by police after refusing to stand down.  Some refer to this as “died by police suicide” – when a person is suicidal and purposely provokes the police to shoot them so they don’t have to do it themselves.  Regardless, I can’t imagine what kind of deep suffering and pain this woman must have been in to resort to such an extreme and horrifying act of violence.  Most parents would give their life to keep their kids safe, not take it from them as a form of revenge.

We don’t know if Sheats was properly taking her medication or if the medication was the right combination for her.  We don’t know if her therapy was effective or if she was truthful with her therapist.  We don’t know if she had a psychotic episode and “just snapped.” However, we do know this.  The case of Christy Sheats is most certainly not indicative of the entire population who have or had a mental health disorder.

It’s terrifying to think that such an instance could occur in someone who was in the midst of a mental health crisis.  I plead with anyone who may be feeling that they are nearing crisis mode to visit the ER and have them administer a mental health evaluation.  It is better to be surrounded by a professional staff whose sole purpose is to keep people healthy and safe.  There is no reason to be ashamed to reach out and admit you are unwell.  There are many options for treatment available and if cost is an issue, many communities have non-profits that offer support groups and classes for free.

While it’s difficult to empathize or feel compassion for an individual who murdered her children, it is natural to wonder “what brought her to this point?” or “is there something someone could have done that would have helped?” Having trained in Mental Health First Aid, there are subtle signs which are cries for help.  If you are a loved one of someone who has a mental health disorder, please make sure to know the signs of a mental health crisis and encourage that person to seek immediate professional advice.  Tragedies like the one in Texas are preventable.

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