Skip to main content

09-04-2013 | Psychology | Article

Mental disorders prevalent among parents who commit filicide


Free full text

medwireNews: UK study findings published in PLoS One reveal that over one-third of parents and step-parents who murder their children - known as filicide - have a mental disorder.

"Identifying associations between mental illness and filicide has clear implications for service providers. It shows there needs to be greater awareness for patients who are parents and especially those with severe mood disorders," said study co-author Kathryn Abel (University of Manchester) in a press release.

She added: "This is an increasingly important issue because better mental health care means that more people with mental illness are able to become parents."

Sandra Flynn (University of Manchester) and team used a national index of homicide perpetrators to identify 297 filicides and 45 filicides that were followed by suicides that occurred in England and Wales during 1997 through 2006.

The majority (80%) of those who committed filicide were biologic parents. A higher proportion of individuals who killed their children were fathers (66%), and 16% of perpetrators were teenagers at the time of the birth of their child. Among the 185 perpetrators with a psychiatric report, 49% had a history of substance misuse, which was more commonly seen among fathers.

A history of mental illness was present in 40% of perpetrators, and this was more common in mothers than in fathers (66 vs 27%). The high incidence of mental illness is consistent with other studies, as is the finding that the most common diagnoses were affective disorders (14%) as opposed to schizophrenia (8%).

However, the researchers note that the proportion of perpetrators with psychosis was still high (15%) compared with 6% of homicides in general population studies.

At the time of the offence, 37% of all perpetrators showed signs of mental illness, and this was more common in mothers than in fathers (53 vs 23%). Worryingly, only 20% of perpetrators had been under the care of mental health services prior to the offence (dropping to 12% for those who had had contact within 12 months of the offence).

The study also found that girls were just as likely to be victims as boys, and that 13% of perpetrators took their own life after killing their child. The researchers noted that a high proportion (51%) of deaths were in infants, which "strengthens calls for early assessment detection of post-partum mental illness."

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2013

By Ingrid Grasmo, medwireNews Reporter

Related topics