Missing Baby Amir Jennings’ Mom is Pregnant, Suffering Schizophrenia

by on February 24th, 2015
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The mother of missing Columbia, S.C., toddler Amir Jennings is pregnant, her lawyer announced today. Zinah Jennings should be released from jail, Hemphill Pride II said, according to Associated Press, to enable her to get prenatal care. Jennings has also been diagnosed with schizophrenia during her jail stay and is taking Rispedral pursuant to a court order that requires a year’s treatment.

Schizophrenia No Contraindication to Pregnancy

Schizophrenia is not a contraindication to pregnancy, according to medical experts. Everyday Health reports that, when properly treated, the condition is not a bar to a healthy pregnancy. However, there are certain things a woman suffering schizophrenia should note when becoming pregnant. These include the possibility that estrogen will cause symptoms to flare up. Smoking is a concern in any pregnancy, but Dost Ongur, McLean Hospital Schizophrenia and Bipolar program clinical director, notes that it’s of special concern to schizophrenia patients due to their higher smoking rates; some 80 percent of patients with schizophrenia smoke. Not all treatments for schizophrenia are safe for pregnant women, Ongur said, but there are many available that are safe.

Potential Pregnancy Concerns

Women with schizophrenia tend to be single and to form shallow relationships, experts say, with a greater percentage of unplanned pregnancies than the general population, according to at least one clinical study. This can lead to pregnancy denial is some cases, and, Ongur noted, if the schizophrenia is not effectively treated, it can lead to delusions about the pregnancy or the woman’s changing body.

Schizophrenia and Parenting

Professional assessments of the capacity of schizophrenic parents to raise children contradict popular stereotypes. Toronto mental health law specialist Alexander Greer acknowledges that children have specific, ongoing needs for both physical care and social skill development that may pose challenges for a parent with schizophrenia. He notes that the schizophrenic parent’s condition is not static but will change over time. While there may be windows where the schizophrenic parent cannot fulfill all of a child’s needs themselves, the skills can be taught, he says. And he points out that fewer than 10 percent of abusive parents suffer from a psychotic disorder.

Schizophrenia Treatment

Schizophrenia cannot be cured but it is considered highly treatable, and the earlier treatment is received, the more effective it is, according to Thomas McGlashan, M.D., of the Yale University School of Medicine. The typical time elapsed between psychosis onset and beginning of treatment is anywhere from several weeks to several years, he noted. Research shows that early detection and education can reduce the intensity of psychotic symptoms.

Court Case

Charges are still pending against Jennings for allegedly lying to police about her 18-month-old son’s whereabouts. A Jan. 11 report by Dr. Michael J. Ferlauto,finding Jennings to be “mentally ill,” could change the legal landscape. According to Ferlauto’s report, Jennings “needs involuntary treatment and because of this mental illness…lacks sufficient insight or capacity to make responsible decisions with respect to his/her treatment…and, therefore, involuntary hospitalization; [and] involuntary outpatient treatment is recommended,” WISTV said. The finding could undermine the state’s case against her; South Carolina uses the M’Naghten Rule under which mental illness is a defense to a crime if the accused establishes that he or she did not know right from wrong as a result of mental illness. However, a warrant in the case notes Jennings telling a detective she needs to be in jail, evidence that could well be offered as proof Jennings did know right from wrong.

With treatment of her psychiatric symptoms underway, it’s also possible that Jennings will be able to assist police in locating Amir if those symptoms were standing in the way.

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