Money problems and family breakups are the main reasons why desperate parents who “see no other option” decide to take their own lives and the lives of their children, according to Dr Sandra Flynn, a researcher at the Centre for Mental Health and Safety at the University of Manchester.
Research conducted by Dr Flynn shows there have been at least 27 cases of filicide in this country from 2000 to 2013 — meaning approximately two parents a year decide to kill their children and sometimes themselves.
“Those who commit filicide-suicide, they often feel there’s no future for them. Maybe they are facing financial ruin or their partner is divorcing them and they feel they can’t just start again at their age,” said Dr Flynn.
“If their partner is with someone else, that’s also a key motivating factor. They see that and they feel there is no hope for them. It’s all about fear and loss and a sense of hopelessness about the future.”
However, the problem cannot be dealt with properly, she said, because there is “a severe lack of research” about the issue.
“The only way we can improve this area and get better at helping people who are contemplating something like this is through research, to identify what is happening, and then by putting the right resources in place to combat it,” she said.
“The Central Statistics Office doesn’t even have figures for filicide because when you break down the numbers people become identifiable, so there’s an issue about confidentiality there. But still, there doesn’t seem to be any research about this at all and there really should be if we want to be able to successfully implement direct-prevention methods.”
Dr Flynn presented her research, which encompassed both Ireland and the UK, at the Irish Association of Suicidology annual conference held in Naas, Co Kildare, yesterday. According to her findings, two thirds of those who committed filicide or filicide suicide were men. In general, men went through with the act of killing their children because of reasons such as divorce, separation and financial ruin and most had a history of violence or of substance abuse.
Mothers who committed filicide, however, were more likely to have a history of mental illness or to be victims of domestic abuse. Females were more likely to kill infants while men were more likely to kill older children. Between 1997 and 2013 there were 45 offenders of filicide suicide in Britain, which works out at almost three a year. These offenders killed 80 children in Britain in the same timeframe —around five children a year.
“In addition, two thirds of those who committed filicide or filicide homicide didn’t have a history of mental illness, which would suggest the act is an impulsive one. It has a lot to do with a build-up of frustration and emotional distress but not necessarily mental illness. So people who are very distressed wouldn’t meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression, but there are factors in their livescausing them distress and they haven’t sought help for that,” said Dr Flynn.
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