Arson: an unforeseen sequela of deinstitutionalization

Am J Psychiatry. 1984 Apr;141(4):504-8. doi: 10.1176/ajp.141.4.504.


Did the shift from institutional to community-based services brought about by deinstitutionalization affect the nature or function of pathological fire setting? The author studied admissions to a state hospital that were precipitated by arson. During a 200-day period, 14 patients accounted for 16 admissions and 17 fires. The data indicate that fires are set by consumers of public sector mental health services to communicate a wish or a need for a change in location of those services. Communicative arson has caused property damage, personal injury, and death and has resulted in a backlash against community alternatives for psychiatric treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Child
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill
  • Communication*
  • Deinstitutionalization*
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / etiology*
  • Female
  • Firesetting Behavior / etiology*
  • Firesetting Behavior / psychology
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric
  • Hospitals, State
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation