80% of filicide parents have psychiatric history

Tue, Nov 6, 2012, 00:00

The Butler tragedy in which a father took his own life after killing his two young daughters was not an isolated case, according to the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF).

There have been at least 23 cases in Ireland since 2000 in which parents took the lives of their child or children, involving a total of 32 children.

In 15 of these cases, the father or mother involved subsequently took his or her own life, and in five cases the spouse or partner was also murdered.

Prof Ella Arensman, NSRF director of research and adjunct professor at the department of epidemiology and public health at University College Cork, said: "The effects of these events are extremely intense, painful and long lasting for family members who are left behind and for the surrounding community."

Dr Arensman paid tribute to the strength of Una Butler, the Co Cork mother whose husband John (43) died when he crashed his car into a ditch less than two hours after he had strangled his daughter Zoe (6) and suffocated his daughter Ella (2) at the family home on November 16th, 2010.

"Due to relatively small numbers of these cases, also referred to as filicide, in any one country, systematic research in this area is limited," Prof Arensman said.

"However, the available international research shows consistency regarding a number of factors that may contribute to an increased risk of the occurrence of these extremely tragic situations: 80 per cent of the parents involved in filicide-suicide had a history of psychiatric disorders, in particular depression; 70 per cent of mothers and 30 per cent of fathers had previous contact with mental health services."

Parents involved in filicide-suicide showed higher rates of prior non-fatal suicidal acts compared with those who took their own lives but not the lives of others, and 30 per cent of fathers had recently experienced a decrease in status of work or job loss.