Many parents who kill their children are unknowingly suffering from mental illness, Manchester uni study reveals

By Mancunian Matters staff

Many parents who kill their children are suffering from mental illnesses they are not seeking help for, new research from the University of Manchester revealed today.

In total, 37% of parents or step-parents who killed their children were suffering from mental illness – yet only 12% had been in contact with mental health services within a year of the offence.

The study – the most in-depth of its kind into filicide in the UK – also revealed that more than a fifth of female killers were teenagers at the time of their child victim’s birth.

This is significantly higher than the 7% of babies who are born to a teenage mother in the general population.

Academics from the University’s Institute of Brain Behaviour and Mental Health analysed 297 cases of convicted filicide and 45 cases of filicide-suicides, where the parent then kills themselves, between January 1997 and December 2006

Professor Kathryn Abel, who led the study, believes that greater awareness for parents who are mental health patients, especially those with severe mood disorders, is needed to avoid more murders.

“This is an increasingly important issue because better mental health care means that more people with mental illness are able to become parents,” she said.

“Our findings indicate that fathers with a history of substance misuse, violence or mood disorder, and mothers who were teenagers at the birth of their child, or with mood disorder may be appropriate targets for intervention.

“Parents with mental illness should be asked about violent thoughts toward their children, particularly if depressed.”

The research, published in journal, PLOS ONE, did show that mental illness was high in cases of filicide, however the most common problems were mood and personality disorders – not psychosis.

This contrasts with popular perception which outlines more severe psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia as contributing factors.

But the proportion was still high at 15%, compared to 6% of homicides in the general population.

The data was taken from the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness (NCI) – which documented all homicides in the UK, with particular focus on perpetrators with mental illness.

Picture courtesy of Hessam, via Flickr, with thanks.

For more on this story and many others, follow Mancunian Matters on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Articles