A qualitative study of filicide by mentally ill mothers

Child Abuse Negl. 2000 Nov;24(11):1451-60. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(00)00198-8.


Objective: To examine descriptions of maternal filicide committed in the context of major mental illness from the frame of reference of a group of perpetrators.

Method: Participants were accessed via their treating psychiatrists. A naturalistic paradigm was used. Semi-structured individual interviews were audio-taped and transcribed. Theme analysis of the transcripts was done by repeated reading of transcripts and coding utterances, individually, then jointly by the authors.

Results: Six women were identified, and interviewed. They described intense investment in mothering their child(ren). Descriptions of external stressors were not extreme, but the experience of illness was described as extremely stressful. They described little or no warning or planning. Their descriptions of their children were unremarkable. Motivation was described as altruistic or as an extension of suicide. They described regretting the killings and feeling responsible even though they knew they had been ill at the time.

Conclusions: The findings underline the difficulty of identification of risk and prevention of maternally ill filicide in the women who described being very caring towards their children, and little or no warning of filicidal urges. They may be better understood in terms of the illness than individual stress or psychodynamics.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Female
  • Homicide*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Parenting
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological