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Front Psychiatry. 2019 Oct 24;10:757. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00757. eCollection 2019.

A Qualitative Study of Mentally Ill Women Who Commit Filicide in Gauteng, South Africa.

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Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Clinical Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.


Introduction: Filicide is the deliberate act of a parent killing his/her own child and a major contributor to child homicide rates. In order to prevent future homicides of this nature and aid in the rehabilitation of those mentally ill women who perpetrate these crimes, it is important to gain a better understanding of the dynamics that may result in filicide and the association of the mental illness with filicide. It is also important to explore how the rehabilitation processes are experienced and the impact they have had. The purpose of this study was to examine the perceptions of women regarding their offenses and their perceptions about their treatment and rehabilitation in a South African context. Method: This was a qualitative study which followed a naturalistic paradigm. The data from the semistructured interviews conducted were analyzed using thematic analysis. The use of subjective experiences and descriptions by the participants aimed to give a representation of the participants' lived experience. This allowed the authors to explore the emerging themes, subthemes, and concepts and organize the most replicated information into a hierarchical assessment. The semistructured interviews were conducted with seven filicidal women with mental illness between July 2016 and April 2017 at Sterkfontein Hospital, Gauteng, South Africa. Results: Most filicidal mothers were psychotic at the time of the offense and perceived trauma and remorse for their offenses. Support from the community and empathy and unconditional positive regard from the staff, notably psychologists, and occupational therapists were overwhelmingly present. Conclusion: Filicide is tragic and largely understudied, particularly from the perpetrator's perspective. When perpetrators are mentally ill, rehabilitation within a nonjudgmental and empathetic environment is necessary.


filicide; lived experience; mentally ill women; psychiatric rehabilitation; qualitative analysis

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