Fire-setting and psychopathology: a brief overview of prevalence, pathways and assessment

Publication Date04 Nov 2019
AuthorClare S. Allely
subjectMatterHealth & social care
Fire-setting and psychopathology: a brief
overview of prevalence, pathways
and assessment
Clare S. Allely
Purpose There is increasing attention on investigating the association between fire-setting and
psychopathology and also the degree to which fire-setting is a manifestation of mental disorder. Despite the
actual prevalence of pyromania remaining elusive, there is growing evidence in the literature highlighting the
higher rates of psychiatric mental health disorders in fire-setters, the most common being: schizophrenia,
mood disorders (such as anxiety and depression), personality disorders, alcohol abuse and intellectual
disability. The purpose of this paper is to highlight more recent work on prevalence, pathways and
assessment in offenders who have engaged in fire-setting.
Design/methodology/approach This paper provides an overview of the literature on fire-setting and
psychopathology with a focus on prevalence, pathways and assessment.
Findings This review identified key literature which has identified a variety of distinct pathways to fire-
setting and also highlights two assessments/measures for fire-setters. Such information is useful for clinicians
when they encounter this group of offenders.
Practical implications This paper has identified in the literature and recommends the use of the Fire
Setting Scaleand the Fire Proclivity Scalein clinical and/or forensic practice.
Originality/value There is a very real need for additional empirical research in this area. There is also a need for
an increased awareness and understanding of how various types of psychopathy can contribute to fire-setting in
both a legal and clinical context.
Keywords Mental health, Psychopathology, Firesetting, Arson, Firesetters, Pyromania
Paper type General review
Pyromania ischaracterised by fascinationwith and attraction to fire and fire-starting paraphernalia,
in addition to the deliberate and repeated setting of fires. Feelings of tension or affective arousal
prior to setting a fire, and feelings of pleasure, gratification, or relief during or following fire-starting
are often experienced by the individuals who had been diagnosed with pyromania. The act of
fire-settingis also not motivated by any financial or materialgain, to conceal crimes, in response to
delusion or hallucination, or due to a lack of judgement.Also, the fire setting behavioursshould not
be better accounted for by a conduct disorder (CD) or other psychiatric illness (APA, 2013). It is
common for individuals with pyromania to spend time closely associated with fire departments,
even becoming firefighters themselves, and are frequently seen watching fires in their
neighbourhoods. These individuals have been found to deliberately set small fires or set off false
alarms so that they can watch the firefighting equipment (APA, 2013). Surprisingly, there is a
relatively little amount of research investigating pyromania and it is a possibly under-reported
impulse control disorder. Individualswho fulfil the diagnostic criteria for pyromania engage in acts
of arson, frequently endangering their lives and those of others, due to their powerful urges to
watch existingfires or to set new fires (APA, 2013). Eventhough for over two centuries pyromania
has been recognisedas a mental health disorder, an accurate prevalenceof the disorder remains
elusive. For instance, Nanayakkara et al. (2015) highlighted in their paper thatthe prevalence rates
found across studies range from 0.4 to 21 per cent with the more methodologically robust
research suggesting that it is an extremely rare disorder (Nanayakkara et al., 2015).
Received 20 June 2019
Accepted 10 September 2019
Conflicts of Interest: there are no
conflicts of interest to declare.
Funding: this paper was unfunded.
Clare S. Allely is based at the
University of Salford, Salford,
DOI 10.1108/JCP-06-2019-0022 VOL. 9 NO. 4 2019, pp. 149-154, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829
PAG E 14 9

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