Pyromania

Pyromania is a rare psychiatric impulse control disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to set fires.

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Definition of Pyromania

Pyromania is a rare psychiatric impulse control disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to set fires. Impulse control disorders are when a person is unable to resist a destructive urge or impulse. It is characterised by an unnatural obsession to setup fires. Some research reveals that while a person with pyromania will get an emotional release after setting a fire, they may also experience guilt or distress afterwards, especially if they were fighting the impulse as long as they could (APA, 2013).

 

Causes of Pyromania

Research has not been conclusive on what causes someone to have Pyromania. It is however thought to be related to several other psychological and mental health-related issues or environmental or externally triggered issues including:

  • Psychiatric disorders – it is thought that people with pyromania often have other psychiatric issues which might be anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, mood disorders, substance abuse, addiction or learning disabilities.
  • Heredity – it is also thought that there could be a genetic component to pyromania and other impulse control disorders. People with impulse-control disorders like pyromania are more likely to have relatives with psychiatric illnesses.‌
  • Brain chemicals – a human brain produces chemicals that control how one thinks, acts, and feels. People with a chemical imbalance in their brains may be more susceptible to pyromania. 
  • Stressors - pyromania may be linked to stressful events such as a major loss or child abuse. ‌
  • Triggers – sometimes triggers, like a thought or a drug, can cause changes in your brain chemicals and this may lead those affected by this disorder to associate starting a fire with feeling good or relieved.

(APA, 2013; Burton et al., 2012; Coid et al, 1999; Gyant et al., 2007; Johnson & Netherton, 2017)

 

Types of Pyromania

Research on this disorder has been minimal due to the challenges in identifying specific underlying causes. However, sometimes pyromania can be categorized by possible genetic links or connections or similar to a behavioural addiction. Although there are no distinct differentiating factors when it comes to pyromania disorder, research indicates that a majority of the people affected are male. In some instances, this disorder has been linked to or thought to include another impulse control disorder related to obsession with fires called pyrolagnia (APA, 2013; Burton et al., 2012; Coid et al, 1999; Gyant et al., 2007; Johnson & Netherton, 2017).

 

Symptoms of Pyromania

Someone who has pyromania starts fires at a frequency around every 6 weeks. According to the American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -V “individuals with this disorder are often regular ‘watchers’ at fires in their neighbourhoods, may set off false alarms, and derive pleasure from institutions, equipment, and personnel associated with fire. They may spend time at the local fire department, set fires to be affiliated with the fire department” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 476–477). Some of the most common symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of pyromania include: 

 

  • An uncontrollable urge to set fires or setting up a fire deliberately on more than one occasion.
  • Pleasure, a rush or relief when setting or seeing fires or a tense or energetic feeling before starting a fire.
  • Being drawn to and obsessed with fire and everything about it or a fascination and attraction to fires and its paraphernalia.
  • Feeling pleasure, relief or gratification when setting fires, seeing fires or being involved in the aftermath of fires. 
  • Pleasure, gratification, relief, tension or excitement when setting fires or when witnessing or participating in the aftermath of fire-starting.
  • Setting fires can't be explained through another psychiatric disorder.
  • Symptoms may start during puberty and last until or through adulthood. 
  • Someone may also be an avid watcher of fires who goes out of their way to seek them out, sometimes to the point of becoming a firefighter.

 

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 11(7), 14-16. 

Burton, P.R.S., McNiel, D.E., Binder, R.L. (2012). Firesetting, Arson, Pyromania, And The Forensic Mental Health Expert. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 40(3), 355-365.

Coid, J., Wilkins, J., Bina, C., (1999). Fire-Setting, Pyromania and Self-Mutilation in Female Remanded Prisoners. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 10(1), 119-130.

Gyant, J.E., & Kim, S.W. (2007). Clinical Characteristics and Psychiatric Comorbidity of Pyromania. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68(11), 1717-1722.

Johnson, R.S., Netherton, E., (2017). Fire Setting and the Impulse-Control Disorder of Pyromania. The American Journal of Psychiatry.

 

Behaviour Help

If you are supporting an individual with this diagnosis, please refer to our services and resources. They aim to help children, adolescents and adults achieve better communication, social, emotional, behavioural and learning outcomes. So whether you are wanting guidance on parenting, teaching, supporting or providing therapy, Behaviour Help is at hand.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of all the possible causes, symptoms and types but some general information that can be further explored. Based on what you have read if you have any concerns about an individual, please raise them with the individual/s. The caregiver can then raise these concerns with their local doctor who can provide a referral to the relevant professional (e.g. paediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, allied health professional and learning specialists) for diagnosis and treatment if appropriate.

Which resources are right for you?

Apps

Based on the Taking CHARGE of Rainbow of Emotions Workbook this app helps children of all ages develop emotional regulation skills. The app guides the child to firstly, identify and express their emotion in appropriate ways. Then the child is guided to use emotional management tool/s from the CHARGE tool kit to manage their emotions in a healthy way.

The acronym CHARGE stands for the different categories of emotional management tools – Chat tools, Helpful thinking tools, Amusement tools, Relaxation tools, Good routine tools and Exercise tools.

Behaviour Help App - Using the evidence-based approach of Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), the Behaviour Help web-based app allows people supporting individuals with emotional and behavioural difficulties to complete a Functional Behaviour Analysis and put together a comprehensive Behaviour Support Plan (BSP). The BSP can then be used by everyone interacting with the individual to manage and prevent challenging behaviours and ultimately improve their lives, and the lives of those who support them.

Books

If you want to learn more about emotional and behavioural difficulties then we have a great range of books you can read on your Kindle or order from Amazon.

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Access these online courses anytime online to learn about a range of diagnoses, practical skills and strategies to help develop the individual’s emotional regulation skills. Also learn to utilise the positive behaviour support framework to address anxiety, aggression, ADHD, ASD and ODD.

SEL Educational Videos

Minimise or eliminate the occurrence of challenging behaviours by teaching children of all ages appropriate ways of communicating, interacting, managing their emotions and behaviours.

The SEL curriculum uses video modelling to provide direct, explicit and systematic teaching of the various skills by discussing the importance of the skill, modelling the skill so the child learns what the skill looks like? sounds like? feels like? and learn the skill in staged situations that simulate real life scenarios.

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Ask Dolly

Since you’re here, you probably have questions and concerns. I am Dolly Bhargava, am here to help. I am a NDIS registered behaviour support practitioner and speech pathologist.

I have worked in a number of settings for over 21 years so, how can I help?

Please tell me what is worrying you right now and I will do my best to recommend resources and/or services that will be most useful to you in your situation.

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