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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Is It Possible to Predict Murder-Suicide?


The answer is No. It is virtually imposible to predict whether someone will commit murder and then kill him/herself. Although the press makes a big deal out of it, murder-suicide is actually quite rare, and the best guess a clinician can make about a client is that it is extremely unlikely he/she will engage in murder-suicide.

From the last 30 years of research, the following so-called warning signs for potential murder-suicide are as follows:

1. Is the potential attacker male? Women almost never engage in murder-suicide.

2. Does the potential attacker have a wife or girlfriend who lives in the same house with the attacker? Murder-suicides almost always happen in the individual's home and involve an opposite sex domestic partner.

3. Does the potential attacker have access to a gun? Almost 100% of murder-suicides are carried out with a firearm.

4. Is the potential attacker middle-aged? Most people who commit murder-suicide are in their thirties.

5. Does the potential attacker have an untreated mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder? Most murder-suicides are carried out by individuals who are depressed and angry.

It is important to keep in mind that an individual can meet all five of the above criteria and never come close to carrying out a murder-suicide. As I mentioned before, it is very rare for someone to take that extreme action. To put it another way, the vast majority of people who commit murder-suicide will meet all five of these criteria, but the vast majority of people who meet all five criteria will not commit murder-suicide.


Interestingly, here are a few characteristics that DO NOT predict murder-suicide:

1. The ethnicity of the potential attacker.

2. Whether or not drugs or alcohol were involved.

3. The employment status of the potential attacker.

4. The day of the week (i.e. was it a weekday or a weekend?).

5. Whether the potential attacker has prior arrests.


Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.
CherryCreekPsychology.com
Facebook.com/drmaxwachtel
Twitter.com/mwachtel

4 comments:

I have something that is bothering me about this whole thing. Perhaps I'm callous, but I can't understand how it is people are so shocked. Every year an average of 1500+ children die of neglect and abuse; horrible violence. That is about 5 children a day. The report I read said this number is probably grossly under-reported. It doesn't seem to me that there is the same outrage and shock. Is it because they die one silent scream at a time? Is there really such denial that no one knows? I just can't believe, after what I have heard and seen in reaction to this tragedy, that no one could care about these children.

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