‘No doubt about it’: Mother of Mary Jo Trokey says postpartum disorder led to homicide-suicide
The mother of a south St. Louis woman believed to have shot her infant, her husband and herself this month says that her daughter suffered from postpartum depression.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Polly Fick told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Thursday. “But because of her background and working as a social worker, I think she was of the opinion that she could handle things.”
On Feb. 2, police found Mary Jo Trokey, her husband, Matthew Trokey, and their 3-month-old daughter, Taylor Rose Trokey, dead in their home in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood. Investigators say the killing was a double murder-suicide and suspect that Mary Jo Trokey, possibly suffering from postpartum psychosis, pulled the trigger herself.
Almost two weeks after her tragic loss, Fick called in to St. Louis on the Air to join a conversation about postpartum depression.
“The pressure that is put on first-time moms, [as] women, is unbelievable,” Fick said. “I think women don’t want to admit that they can’t do this, you know?”
Fick said her daughter was struggling with being a first-time mom despite having a supportive family and a background in mental health. A combination of stressful factors, especially breastfeeding and returning to work, “all compounded” and led up to the killings.
“She had just returned to work and she was juggling all the stress of that,” Fick said. “Her husband was very supportive, he was right there with her. They had the ideal situation.”
Mary Jo Trokey had a job she could do from home, her mother said, so she could spend more time with her newborn. Looking back, Fick questions if that made a difference.
“Would that have mattered, if she’d worked at a regular office? Maybe a coworker would have picked up [on signs.]”
Understanding postpartum depression
Fick called in to Thursday’s show to join a conversation with Washington University child psychiatrist Cynthia Rogers, who is an expert in perinatal and postnatal depression, and Washington University psychologist Shannon Lenze.
They addressed the crucial role of mental health screenings and treatment for new parents since postpartum depression affects 20 percent of mothers and 10 percent of fathers.
The biological causes of postpartum depression are not yet fully understood, Rogers said, but risk factors include:
- Prior history of depression and/or anxiety.
- Financial, marital, early childhood trauma stressors.
- Intimate partner violence.
- Having medically complicated pregnancies and infants.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare disorder that affects one in 1,000 women. Rogers said it is characterized by psychotic symptoms including delusions and hallucinations, which can lead those affected to commit violent acts. She emphasized that these are brain disorders that cause mental dysfunction.
Rogers also noted that postpartum depression leads to high rates of suicide.
Various stigmas prevent women from seeking help with postpartum complications, even after a diagnosis. “They fear that by admitting that something might be wrong, they might get their babies taken away or that people with view them as bad mothers,” Lenze said.
Sometimes women assume the symptoms are a normal part of having a baby and will go away with time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Preventative Task Force and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all recommend screening during and after pregnancy for postpartum depression.
Lenze said screening involves a healthcare professional in a clinic asking questions about symptoms of depression. The healthcare professional then provides education about the results of the screening and recommends treatment, which typically include medications and talk therapy.
Rogers said screening is also important for pregnant and new mothers even if they do not yet have postpartum depression. The mental disorder can still affect parents six to 12 months post-pregnancy.
Fick, Mary Jo Trokey’s mother, told Marsh that she and her spouse are hoping to start a foundation to prevent this kind of tragedy in the future.
“It has to be lobbied, it’s got to come from the top, and there has to be some kind of mechanism so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” she said.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.