What Every Family Should Be Aware Of: Psychiatric Illness & Murder
What a cute baby in this photo. Can you imagine a mother taking her life? No. Most people could not even wrap an inch of their mind around this tragic reality. But for some families with a loved one with a severe or untreated mental illness, homicide or violence is far too common a reality.
One of the most shocking incidents in life is when a child is murdered. The most unfathomable is when a mother (maternal filicide) or father (paternal filicide) kills their own child. When a parent kills their own child it is referred to as filicide. Filicide is a form of homicide that can be committed by a mother or a father, despite media attention often on mothers. Unfortunately, most media outlets do not cover incidents involving filicide so many are uninformed about its existence and prevalence around the world.
Research shows that the probability of becoming a homicide victim is highest during the first 3-5 years of life. In fact, the United States has the highest rate of childhood homicide. Rates do vary according to location and experts say that finding accurate results is almost impossible. In England and Wales, between 1995 and 1999 about 80% of homicide victims under the age of 1 year old were killed by a parent.
When one thinks of a mother murdering her child, the first person that comes to mind is Andrea Yates, the mother who murdered her five children, June of 2001, by drowning them. According to media and court reports, Yates suffered from depression with psychotic features. Depression with psychotic features often entail typical symptoms of depression such as:
- Increased or decreased eating patterns
- Poor sleep
- Irritability or agitation
- Persistent depressed or low mood
- Suicidal thoughts (suicidal ideation)
- Anhedonia or inability to experience pleasure
Psychotic features include:
- Delusions (strongly held false beliefs held to be true despite evidence to the contrary)
- Hallucinations (perceptual difficulties)
When the above symptoms converge with thoughts of homicide the result can be devastating. Reports on Andrea Yates state that she claimed she wanted to “save [her children] from eternal damnation.” After being convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2002, the case was remanded. Second verdict found Yates not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI).
While filicide is an important concept to be aware of, there are two other terms that you should be aware of as well:
- Infanticide: The killing of a child that is under 12 months
- Neonaticide: The killing of a child during the first 24 hours of after birth
The killing of a child due to an untreated or severe psychiatric illness is rather common. It is a common reality that most families would rather not embrace. If you have a loved one who may be experiencing the above symptoms, I encourage you to reach out for help for a psychiatric evaluation.
If your loved one is suicidal, you can also call the suicide hotline from anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-999-9999
To read more about depression with psychotic features, check into WedMD
To read more about filicide or childhood homicide, visit The Journal of The American Academy of Psychiatry and The Law Online.
I wish you all the best
Friedman, H.S., & Resnick, J.P. (2007). Child murder by mothers: patterns and prevention. World Psychiatry 6, 137-141.
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. (2011). Child homicide statistics. Retrieved April 21, 2013, from http://www.nspcc.org.uk/inform/research/statistics/child_homicide_statistics_wda48747.html
Hill, T. (2013). What Every Family Should Be Aware Of: Psychiatric Illness & Murder. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 30, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2013/04/what-every-family-should-be-aware-of-psychiatric-illness-murder/