Mary Richardson Kennedy's Death Attributed to Hanging, Psychologists See Signs in Recent Past

The Westchester Medical Examiner's Office confirmed cause of death Thursday.

ByABC News
May 17, 2012, 12:05 PM

May 17, 2012— -- Mary Richardson Kennedy, the wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., died of asphyxiation by hanging, reports the Westchester County Medical Examiner's office.

Her body was found Wednesday in an outbuilding on the couple's property in Bedford, N.Y. The death has not been officially ruled a suicide, but sources told ABC News that Kennedy apparently killed herself. Her death marked the final event in a life that had turned tumultuous of late and adds yet another dark moment in the Kennedy family's history.

Psychologists said events in Kennedy's recent history, such as reports of alcohol and drug abuse and psychiatric problems, pointed to an increased risk of suicide.

"When these things come to together in just the wrong way, they can really put someone at greater risk of suicide," said Dr. Ken Robbins, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin.

Psychologists say problems with alcohol and drugs were one of the most common factors that increase a person's risk of suicide. Robbins said about 90 percent of people who commit suicide had a history of substance abuse and a record of psychiatric illness, usually depression.

"When it [depression] is combined with alcohol in particular, it increases the risk of suicide dramatically because of the disinhibiting effects of alcohol. It becomes much harder to talk yourself down from the suicidal thoughts," Robbins said.

Kennedy, 52, had four children with her husband, the son of Ethel Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968. Mary Richardson Kennedy and Robert Kennedy Jr. had been married for 16 years. In 2010, the New York Post reported that Mary Richardson Kennedy had been at the center of several disturbing episodes.

In September 2007, the Westchester Journal News reported that Robert F. Kennedy Jr., worried about his wife's mental state, had tried to drive her to a psychologist's office. She resisted and ran from the car into the road, according to police reports.

The couple filed for divorce in 2010, a day after police had been called to the couple's Bedford home in response to a "domestic incident" during which Mary Kennedy was allegedly intoxicated, according to the Westchester Journal News. She claimed that her husband had been verbally abusive to her and her children.

Three days later, she was charged with driving under the influence after she ran the family's station wagon over a curb outside a school near their home, the newspaper reported.

In August 2010, she was arrested again for driving under the influence of drugs, according to the Associated Press.

It's difficult to tease out how Kennedy's relationship with her husband and the Kennedy family may have exacerbated her problems. The Kennedy clan is historically a close-knit group, united particularly by the series of tragedies that have haunted them, such as the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, Sen. Edward Kennedy's involvement in a car crash on the small island of Chappaquiddick that killed a young woman, and the deaths of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn, in a plane crash in 1999.

Strong social support is one factor that can reduce a person's risk suicide, even if they are facing a number of other stressors. But family violence or discord can do just the opposite, particularly if the person is struggling psychologically, psychologists say.