Burning Charcoal: An Indigenous Method of Committing Suicide in Hong Kong
J Clin Psychiatry 2002;63:447-450
© Copyright 2014 Physicians Postgraduate Press, Inc.
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Background: Carbon monoxide (CO)
poisoning by burning charcoal has become one of
the most common ways of committing suicide in Hong Kong since late 1998. The evolution of
the phenomenon was explored in the current study.
Method: Information about completed
suicides between January 1996 and December 1999 was obtained from the Hong Kong death
registry and hospital authority, and information about
ambient temperature and humidity was obtained from the Hong Kong Observatory. News on
completed suicides by burning charcoal was
collected by computer search using the data bank of 6
major Hong Kong newspapers. The data were analyzed.
Results: CO poisoning by burning
charcoal rose from 0% of all Hong Kong suicides in
1996 and 1997 to 1.7% in 1998 and 10.1% in 1999. The monthly incidence rate bore a reciprocal
relationship with the ambient temperature.
Suicidal pacts were overrepresented, and past history
of mental illness was uncommon. Both demographic and clinical features of suicides by burning
charcoal resembled those of suicides by domestic
gas poisoning. The overall suicide rate remained
unchanged in the above period.
Conclusion: Suicide by burning charcoal is
a new variant of domestic gas poisoning. A host of biopsychosocial and ethnological factors are
responsible for the birth and indigenization of