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Commentary: Child Murder and Mental Illness in Parents: Implications for Psychiatrists

J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(5):587-588

National registries are exceptionally rich sources of data for studies of filicide due to a large sample size and potentially comprehensive information. However, national databases often provide limited data about the perpetrator. This commentary contextualizes the findings of a recent study by Laursen and colleagues that used 34 years of national registry data from Denmark. The authors point out that caution must be used in making cross-national comparisons. Rates may differ substantially across studies due to cultural and societal differences and variations in sample characteristics; for example, the psychiatric admission diagnoses in the Laursen et al study included drug abuse, which may be a less common reason for psychiatric hospitalization elsewhere. Parents kill their children for 5 major reasons: fatal maltreatment, altruistic, acutely psychotic, unwanted child, and spouse revenge. In addition to psychiatric history, risk factors may include violence history, victim characteristics, situational factors, social milieu, and demographics. Further studies are needed in order to develop effective prevention strategies and programs. In conclusion, the authors emphasize that the vast majority of parents with mental illness do not kill their children.