University of Witwatersrand psychology lecturer Joseph Seabi, who specialises in suicide analysis, says a perpetrator of these kind of crimes is often suicidal himself. But prior to his own suicide, he may ask himself: “But if I kill myself, what about my kids? Who will look after them?”
It is this kind of thinking that can lead a suicidal man to familicide.
Professor Gertie Pretorius, director at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Psychological Services, agrees that SA men who are raised with a “breadwinner” mentality will often feel that they are saving their families from further suffering by killing them.
In her research on family murders, Pretorius noted that these individuals see no other way out, “a vortex of hopelessness” in their emotional or financial woes. The moment the provider of the family starts to fail at his/her job, a warped mind may start to rationalise their own death.
However, Seabi pointed out that a violent burst of emotion can also lead to this sort of crime, where the suicide is part of the regret the killer experiences after committing a heinous crime of passion.
While both psychologists said that it’s difficult to profile someone who would have the capacity to kill themselves or their families, there are some signs and personality types that may be more prone to these behaviours.
Pretorius indicated that a long history of depression or hopelessness is often seen in perpetrators of familicide. General mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or a history of violence may also increase the likelihood of these crimes.
But Seabi believes that those who have trouble expressing their own emotions can often erupt into violence. The inability to deal with the conflicts in their lives can frustrate them and eventually turn even the most reserved person into someone capable of violence.
Those that are at risk of suicide also exhibit these kind of behaviours, from feelings of hopelessness and despair to a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Extroverts who suddenly become reserved or introverted is a sign that they may be contemplating suicide. But those suffering from depression or violent thoughts must realise that they have to ask for help.
“There is no reason to feel embarrassed by asking for help,” says Pretorius.