Obsessions of child murder: underrecognized manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disorder

J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2014;42(1):66-74.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common illness that remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. Distressing obsessions of violence are a frequent manifestation of OCD, related to overattribution of meaning to passing thoughts, a sense of overresponsibility, and concurrent confessing rituals to decrease related anxiety. These intrusive thoughts can include infanticidal or filicidal obsessions in new parents. There is little to no evidence to suggest that these thoughts pose a significant risk of harm, which is reflected in related professional treatment guidelines. In this study, we sought to examine the recognition and risk management preferences among psychiatry professionals and trainees regarding a case example description of filicide obsessions as a manifestation of OCD. A questionnaire regarding a case marked by filicide obsessions was emailed to psychiatrists and psychiatry residents. Respondents provided their preferred and differential diagnoses, reporting their perceptions of risk and optimal case management. Of the 43 respondents, only 62 percent considered OCD in the differential diagnosis. Those considering OCD in the differential diagnosis assessed risk of harm as being lower than did those who did not consider it (3.7 versus 6.6; F(1,36) = 12.18; p < .005). Despite this result, the majority of respondents included involuntary admission (60%) and reports to child welfare authorities (68%) among their preferred management strategies. This survey supports our contention that greater awareness of OCD and understanding of management strategies is needed among psychiatrists and trainees. As well, a greater awareness of the low risk of violence associated with this population is necessary to avoid penalizing individuals with OCD-related aggressive and infanticidal obsessions.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infanticide / psychology*
  • Male
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / complications*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / therapy
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Spouses