Doctor: Mom's mental illness linked to pregnancy

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Pregnancy likely triggered a mental-illness episode for a South Carolina mother who drove her three children into the ocean off Daytona Beach last March, a psychiatrist testified Tuesday at a hearing to determine whether she needs to be forcibly hospitalized.

Dr. Jeffrey Danziger said that 33-year-old Ebony Wilkerson's symptoms disappeared after she gave birth to her fourth child in jail. Wilkerson's illness couldn't be easily categorized because it included elements of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, such as wild swings and rapid speech about religious delusions, the psychiatrist said.

"She had a rapidly fluctuating illness," said Danziger, who evaluated her on four occasions. "Though she had a psychiatric disorder, it didn't neatly fit a category."

Circuit Judge Leah Case ruled last week that Wilkerson was not guilty by reason of insanity to child abuse, and prosecutors dropped attempted murder charges against her. The judge must now determine whether Wilkerson should be forcibly hospitalized for mental health treatment, released with court supervision or released without supervision. Both the judge and Wilkerson's attorneys have said Wilkerson's plea and the subsequent hearing are out of the ordinary.

Wilkerson is prohibited from seeing her children, but Danziger said she has hopes that will change. The three children involved in the ocean incident are in state custody, and her newborn is with her husband.

Wilkerson's mental illness appears to be in remission, and there is nothing in her behavior to indicate that she is dangerous, Danziger said.

"She has done well in the past seven months," the psychiatrist said.

Danziger's testimony was interrupted after Wilkerson's attorney, Julie Morris, fainted at a podium while questioning him. She quickly regained consciousness. Court was in recess while paramedics attended to her.

When court resumed, Morris was absent from the courtroom, though Wilkerson's other attorneys were present. The judge said the defense would finish presenting its case Wednesday morning.


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