Colleagues mourn NY courts lawyer who died in suicide leap with son

Colleagues of a Manhattan courts employee who died Wednesday in an apparent suicide expressed sadness and surprise.

Cynthia Wachenheim, 44, died Wednesday after jumping from her eighth-floor apartment window in Harlem with her 10-month-old son, report the New York Times, the New York Law Journal, the Associated Press and the Albany Times Union. The infant, Keston Bacharach, survived and suffered only a bruise on his cheek, the Times says.

Wachenheim had worked as a pool court attorney for nearly 15 years, doing research and writing for civil court judges in Manhattan. Court attorney Michelle Kucsma, who shared an office with Wachenheim, told the New York Law Journal that her colleagues were “totally shocked” by the death. “She was one of the most friendly, laid-back, focused and helpful people you could ever meet,” Kucsma said.

An anonymous law enforcement official told the Times that Wachenheim left a lengthy suicide note blaming herself for two recent falls by her child. She expressed fears of lasting harm to the boy and said her plans were “evil,” the source said.

Reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Catherine Birndorf noted the reference to “evil” in an interview with the Times. Left untreated, postpartum depression can progress to serious mental illness, she said. “Usually these intensely lethal acts happen in the context of losing some kind of touch with reality,” Birndorf said.

The Times notes that while 10-20 percent of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression, about 1 or 2 out of 1,000 can suffer from postpartum psychosis. Citing health department information, the Times says, “Postpartum psychosis is characterized by delusions, often about the baby, agitation, anger, paranoia, and sometimes commands to harm the infant. It has a 5 percent suicide rate and a 4 percent infanticide rate.”

Related coverage:

NPR Shots Blog: “Postpartum Depression Affects 1 In 7 Mothers”

Last updated at 4:55 p.m. to add more detail from the Times report.

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