ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Now, this next story may or may not be directly related to the economy. It certainly is a sad indicator, though, and a gruesome one. And if you have small children listening, you may want to turn down the volume. We're talking about a Los Angeles man who murdered his wife and five children this week, after he and his wife lost their jobs at an area hospital. And it's just the latest in a string of similar murder-suicides in this area. Joining us now is Louis Schlesinger. He's a professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Welcome to the program and tell us, there's actually a term for this, right? It's familicide.

Dr. LOUIS SCHLESINGER (Professor, Forensic Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice): Yes, this is called familicide, or family mass murder.

BRAND: And do you see it as linked to the economy in any way?

Dr. SCHLESINGER: I really don't. I mean, you'll get - familicide, first of all, is extremely rare. There's case reports - happens a couple of times a year. And it happens even in good economic times. What it is, is a - usually, a despondent male figure of the household develops, for multiple reasons, a fixed idea, an idea that takes on a root-like fixation that grabs him, that the only way out is to kill the future victim, and in this case, multiple victims. It builds, and he broods about it for weeks, sometimes even months, and finally, he just acts it out and does it. The trigger could certainly be economic loss and very often, it is some sort of feeling that there's going to be devastation, there's no other way out, some pending disaster. But I'd - to say that it's due directly or exclusively to the economic situation now, I think, would be a mistake.

BRAND: We did see in the past, and perhaps this is still continuing, but we don't hear about it as often, men who have lost their jobs coming back to the workplace.

Dr. SCHLESINGER: Right. Well, that's a little different. The people who go back to the workplace, that's fueled by anger and hostility. And we could certainly detect that by what he does, and by what the individual says if he survives. In familicide cases, the individual is not angry at the victims. They view the victims with sympathy. They kill the victims to protect them. They think that the victims are going to experience some form of disaster in life, and it's a protective measure, in their twisted sort of thinking. That's a little bit different than workplace violence.

BRAND: As you say, this is very rare. So, perhaps these men are experiencing some mental problems to begin with. And so, what should psychologists, mental health professionals, just people in general be on the lookout for?

Dr. SCHLESINGER: Well, that's exactly correct. These are usually rigid men. They're depressed men. And the thing is here that health-care providers should be on the lookout for a male figure who says to them, or reveals an idea, to kill as a solution to the problem. Mental health professionals and health-care providers need to question people regarding homicidal ideation with the same meticulous level of detail that they question individuals for suicide ideation. When someone comes to a family doctor's office, or even a psychiatrist or psychologist office for depression, there is always a question and examination for suicide, but almost never a questioning with respect to homicide. And that's a real mistake because a lot of these people that do explode and kill multiple people have told someone else weeks, or even days, before it.

BRAND: Are they asking for someone to stop them?

Dr. SCHLESINGER: Yes - there's ambivalence. And any time you have a situation like this, or even workplace violence or school shootings or suicide, there's always some level of ambivalence. The majority of the person may want to do it, but part of the person, the healthier part, wants to be stopped from doing it. But they may not say it directly. So, it's up to the health-care provider, then, to probe and try to elicit and understand if there's a homicidal intention along with the depression.

BRAND: Louis Schlesinger is a professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Thank you very much.

Dr. SCHLESINGER: Thank you.

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