Filicide: Mental Illness in Those Who Kill Their Children

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    Abstract

    Background:Most child victims of homicide are killed by a parent or step-parent. This large population study provides a contemporary and detailed description of filicide perpetrators. We examined the relationship between filicide and mental illness at the time of the offence, and care received from mental health services in the past.Method:All filicide and filicide-suicide cases in England and Wales (1997-2006) were drawn from a national index of homicide perpetrators. Data on people in contact with mental health services were obtained via a questionnaire from mental health teams. Additional clinical information was collected from psychiatric reports.Results:6144 people were convicted of homicide, 297 were filicides, and 45 cases were filicide-suicides. 195 (66%) perpetrators were fathers. Mothers were more likely than fathers to have a history of mental disorder (66% v 27%) and symptoms at the time of the offence (53% v 23%), most often affective disorder. 17% of mothers had schizophrenia or other delusional disorders. Overall 8% had schizophrenia. 37% were mentally ill at the time of the offence. 20% had previously been in contact with mental health services, 12% within a year of the offence.Conclusion:In the majority of cases, mental illness was not a feature of filicide. However, young mothers and parents with severe mental illness, especially affective and personality disorder who are providing care for children, require careful monitoring by mental health and other support services. Identifying risk factors for filicide requires further research. © 2013 Flynn et al.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere58981
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Volume8
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2013

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