A Public Health Approach in Responding to the Spread of Helium Suicide in Hong Kong: A Case Report

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Abstract

Background: The use of the helium suicide method has been increasing in popularity in Hong Kong since 2012. We have learned a valuable lesson in curbing the spread of charcoal burning (CB) suicide in the past 15 years and hope to prevent the helium suicide method from taking off in the community. Aims: To document what actions have been taken to contain the spread of the helium suicide method and review the preliminary impact of these actions. Method: We adopted a public health approach by engaging stakeholders from multiple sectors, including the police force, the fire services department, coroners, pathologists, mass media, and online media outlets. Results: A monitoring system was established by compiling data extracted from news reports, coroners' reports, and police investigations. Risk and protective factors were identified. Intervention strategies were developed to strengthen protective factors and minimize risk factors. This novel suicide method has not spread as rapidly as the CB suicide method. The preliminary outcomes suggest our actions to be effective. Limitations: The count of helium suicides in 2015 might be low. The impacts of the interventions are only estimated and require additional empirical verifications. Conclusion: The public health approach of engaging multiple partners in the early phase of a potential epidemic can be a good guide to meeting the challenges posed by any new suicide methods that emerge in the future.

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