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Filicide, is the murder of a child by a parent. Filicide is a multifaceted phenomenon with various causes and characteristics. Filicide is a relatively rare event.

In attempts to determine reasons for child murder by parents, several authors have proposed general classification systems that categorize cases based mostly on perceived motive or on the source of the impulse for the parent’s homicidal act. All types of filicide which include, mentally illness, fatal abuse, and retaliation, are specified as being either with or without the conscious desire to kill. 

Although some studies have noted that mothers commit filicide more often than fathers,other research has shown that paternal filicide is as common or more common than maternal filicide. Results of numerous studies indicate an association between filicide and parental psychiatric illness, with major depression with psychotic features most common.

Mothers who commit filicide tend to be married and to report high levels of stress and a lack of support and resources at the time of the offense. Multiple psychosocial stressors as motivating factors for maternal filicide have been identified, including being the primary caregiver for at least one child, unemployment/financial problems, ongoing abusive adult relationships, conflict with family members, and limited social support. The prevalence of serious mental disorders has been noted often in studies of maternal filicide, with depression and psychosis reported most often.

Despite findings that men commit filicide as often as or more often than women, paternal filicide has attracted limited research. The presence of significant life stressors has been reported by filicidal fathers, including financial difficulties, impending divorce, and fear of separation. A high proportion of filicidal fathers have low socioeconomic status. Many filicidal fathers are unemployed and have below‐average education levels. Social isolation and/or a lack of social support are also commonly reported in paternal filicide.

Filicide is a complicated and multifactorial crime. Given its complex nature, it is difficult to establish traits that consistently apply to its perpetrators and victims. Though it is certainly not always the case, the prevention of filicide may be achieved by physicians who interact with a patient prior to his or her commission of this devastating act. Psychiatrists have one of the best opportunities to do this when caring for mentally ill parents, and this is particularly true when psychiatrists are caring for women in the postpartum period.

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Author – Kate Bailey – Hill

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