The mental state of arsonists as determined by forensic psychiatric examinations.
P. Rasanen, H. Hakko and E. Vaisanen,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
23(4): 547-53, 1995.
In this study we evaluated whether arsonists (n = 98) differ from homicide offenders (n = 55) in
regard to psychiatric disorders, suicidality, and criminal responsibility in the context of forensic
psychiatric pretrial examinations. Arsonists were mainly male, poorly educated, unemployed, and
living in rural areas. Eighty-four percent of the arsonists and 62 percent of the homicide offenders
had an alcohol abuse problem. This difference was statistically significant (p = .002). The arsonists
more commonly had suicidal thoughts and attempted suicides. Over one-third of the arsonists used
fire-setting as a suicide attempt. In comparing the arsonists with the control group, there was a
statistically significant difference in the variables that indicate suicidality. Arsonists more commonly
had diagnosed psychiatric diseases (p = .008). The incidence of psychoses was fourfold, chronic or
severe depression about threefold, and mental retardation twofold when compared with the homicide
offenders. Eighty-five percent of the arsonists had received psychiatric care before the crime was
committed. The arsonists were more often found to be not criminally responsible for the crime
committed (p = .01).