Objective: Child murder by mentally ill mothers is an important public health and psychiatric concern. However, the authors' clinical and forensic experience has been that psychiatrists often do not inquire about maternal thoughts of harming their children. This study sought to elucidate the perceptions of psychiatrists and psychiatric residents regarding the frequency of such thoughts, and to clarify whether they inquire specifically about maternal filicidal thoughts. Psychiatrists were expected to underestimate the prevalence maternal thoughts of harming their children. It was hypothesized that psychiatrists often do not ask their patients about these thoughts.
Methods: This study surveyed psychiatrists and psychiatric residents at 2 academic institutions. Respondents were asked whether they routinely query women about motherhood, to estimate the frequency of thoughts of child harm, and whether they inquire about filicidal thoughts in psychotic or suicidal mothers.
Results: Two hundred twenty surveys (67%) were returned. Most psychiatrists underestimated the frequency of depressed mothers who experienced thoughts of harming their young children. Almost one half indicated that they do not ask specifically about filicidal ideation but rather ask about general homicidal thoughts only.
Conclusions: Psychiatrists should have further education about the prevalence of filicidal thoughts and more frequently inquire about them.