Mood Disorders Common Among Mothers Who Commit Filicide

Filicide, the term assigned to the act of a child homicide by a parent, is the most common type of homicide among children. When parents kill their child, mental health issues are often thought to play a role. However, research exploring the relationship between mental illness and filicide is limited. To better understand which parents are at risk for perpetrating filicide, and what mental health issues increase that risk, Sandra M. Flynn of the Centre for Mental Health and Risk at the University of Manchester in the UK led a study examining over ten years of filicide and filicide-suicide data from England. She looked at whether or not biological parents or stepparents were more likely to murder their children, and what mental health issues, treated and untreated, increased the risk of filicide. Flynn also examined age and gender as contributing factors.

She found that among the 297 filicide cases from 1997 to 2006 that she studied, 66% were committed by fathers, even though the mothers had a much higher rate of mental illness. In fact, nearly 66% of the mothers had a history of psychological illness, compared to only 27% of the fathers. Further, symptom presence was a strong indicator as the results of this study revealed that over half of the mothers who committed filicide had symptoms at the time and most often, those symptoms were related to mood disorders. Surprisingly, although psychosis, schizophrenia, and other conditions that cause delusions have been previously shown to be high risk factors for filicide, they were only reported in 17% of the mothers in this study. Flynn also found that only one in five filicide perpetrators had received any mental health care services, and only 12% had been under professional care in the year prior to the filicide.

Other factors that increased the likelihood of filicide included young maternal age, multiple children, and age of child. Specifically, women who were under 27 were more likely to commit filicide, and the majority of the children victims were infants. The most vulnerable age for victimhood was prior to age 5, with risk of death to children decreasing dramatically with each subsequent birthday. Socioeconomic status and marital status were evaluated, but Flynn found that these posed higher risks for maternal mental health issues in general than for the act of filicide itself. In other words, single young mothers with few economic means may be more vulnerable to psychological difficulties that do not lead to filicide. For males, who represented the majority of perpetrators, prior violent behavior, homicide, and substance use were predictive of filicide. Flynn said, “Future research on filicide should study these acts in the context of child abuse and domestic violence to support the development of effective interventions.”

Flynn, S.M., Shaw, J.J., and Abel, K.M. (2013). Filicide: Mental illness in those who kill their children. PLoS ONE 8(4): e58981. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058981

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Phil27

    April 18th, 2013 at 11:28 PM

    There are so many acts of violence and crimes that could be prevented if the perpetrator was actually diagnosed.its a pity that so many crimes happen just because of no diagnosis and its sad that these children fall prey to a condition of their parent.wish things were better on this front.

  • Sandy

    April 19th, 2013 at 12:33 AM

    I think the fathers who kill have fewer mental health problems cuz they just don’t have the patience to deal with kids especially crying kids they can’t figure out how to stop. Moms tend to be more patient so they can put up with the hard things that go along with kids unless they have the mental problems that make them not think right. I sure am glad those days are behind me though I do miss my kids being little sometimes I wouldn’t go back though.

  • Roger

    April 19th, 2013 at 12:47 AM

    Sort of surprised more teenagers aren’t killed.

    I mean I love my kids and all, but oh my lord, they can be so awful as teenagers.

    It’s a true miracle anyone survives from the age of 12-20. What mouths!

  • Niles

    April 19th, 2013 at 12:52 AM

    It certainly makes sense that the fathers who kill their children have a violent past. It’s almost as if you have to look at fathers and mothers completely differently, as even healthy moms and dad with their children’s best interests at heart are completely different parents. Studies show over and over that moms teach their children through nurturing while dads teach their children through play. Not that both don’t do both to a degree, but as a whole, this is what the research shows. So, dad’s who kill their kids would probably have a violent past. They probably don’t have any of the nurturing characteristics while a normal dad may only have some of the nurturing characteristic.

  • MYRA

    April 19th, 2013 at 12:57 AM


  • J. Granger

    April 19th, 2013 at 12:59 AM

    This study is just more evidence of why we need to give out contraception in high schools. If we can take young mothers out of the equation, maybe more children would live to see their first birthdays.

  • Rae

    April 19th, 2013 at 3:45 AM

    Excuse me, but is there anyone alive who did NOT think that there had to be some mental illness present when a parent kills their own child?

  • Finley P

    April 20th, 2013 at 12:10 AM

    “66% were committed by fathers, even though the mothers had a much higher rate of mental illness. In fact, nearly 66% of the mothers had a history of psychological illness, compared to only 27% of the fathers.”

    This just gives me a feeling that more than the illness itself the relationship with the partner may be the trigger to committing filicide.

  • Hannah

    April 20th, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    Fine, they have mood disorders.
    So what?
    Is that an excuse? Does that give them the right to kill their child?

  • meg

    April 22nd, 2013 at 4:02 AM

    Any time that I hear a story about a mom killing her own child, it kind of takes my breath away. I don’t understand it, the motivation or even having the ability to think that this is the solution.

  • Iris

    April 23rd, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    I am so on the fence about all of this, because while on one hand I feel sorry for these nothers who are sick, literally sick, and have never received a diagnosis and now they have hurt so much that they have resorted to hurting someone else. But at the same time this is your child, and it is horrible to think of being so low that you could do this to your own child. There is a serious failure somewhere that has let something go this far, and there is no easy answer to solve the problem.

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