Arson: an unforeseen sequela of deinstitutionalization

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry



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Medical Subject Headings

Adolescent; Adult; Attitude to Health; Child; Commitment of Mentally Ill; *Communication; *Deinstitutionalization; Female; Firesetting Behavior; Hospitals, Psychiatric; Hospitals, State; Humans; Impulse Control Disorders; Male; Mental Disorders; Middle Aged; Motivation


Health Services Research | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology


Did the shift from institutional to community-based services brought about by deinstitutionalization affect the nature or function of pathological fire setting? The author studied admissions to a state hospital that were precipitated by arson. During a 200-day period, 14 patients accounted for 16 admissions and 17 fires. The data indicate that fires are set by consumers of public sector mental health services to communicate a wish or a need for a change in location of those services. Communicative arson has caused property damage, personal injury, and death and has resulted in a backlash against community alternatives for psychiatric treatment.

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Citation: Am J Psychiatry. 1984 Apr;141(4):504-8.

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