Monitor Online Spreading of an Emerging Suicide Method

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Monitor Online Spreading of An Emerging Suicide Method (Charcoal Burning) in Mainland China

digital-388075_1280In the past 15 years, a new method of suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from burning barbecue charcoal, also known as the charcoal burning (CB) method, was found to be spreading in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Starting from the late 1990s, this method reached epidemic proportions in Hong Kong and Taiwan within 5 years. Meanwhile, we are not clear with the extent to which this method has spread in mainland China because a national suicide surveillance system in China does not exist. Given the rapid spreading of the method in other East Asian area and increasing of Internet penetration in Mainland China, it is reasonable for us to be concerned with the potential increasing of suicide using this method in the most populated country in the world. Our study proposes close monitoring of online information on the CB method as an approach to investigate the trends of suicides using this method and preventing the method from spreading further. We extensively extract and examine news reports of CB suicides, online search activities of keywords relating to CB, and online content relating to CB to monitor the changing trends.

This study will serve as a pilot for our further investigation of charcoal burning suicide, as well as other emerging suicide problems, in various online platforms. We expect the study to not only generate new findings in suicide research but also be able to lead to new online suicide prevention strategies. We hope to engage Internet service providers, such as the Baidu company, to provide preventive information for their users who are asking about suicide and remove information that may increase suicide risk.

This study has demonstrated visible impact on raising the awareness of suicide prevention among Internet service providers since its launch.  After we exchanged our knowledge with Baidu, Baidu search engine launched a search box function to display contact information and website of a national suicide prevention helpline when people search “suicide” in the mid of April, 2015. We are working closely with Baidu to extend the function to other suicide-related keywords.

Engagement of Media Professionals in Suicide Prevention

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Engage Media Professionals In Suicide Prevention

20150203 meeting with HKFSD, HKPIC

Research conducted by the HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention (CSRP), HKU, has consistently demonstrated that the mass media in Hong Kong, as well as in Taiwan and Mainland China, have been selectively reporting suicide news and the reports have had crucial impacts on actual suicides. Namely, prominent reporting of celebrity suicide was found to be significantly associated with the increasing of suicide rates in a short term; and sensational reporting and online representation of a new suicide method, namely, charcoal burning, was found to facilitate rapid spreading of the method within Hong Kong, as well as from Hong Kong to other East Asian areas. These findings, in line with findings from other countries, exhibit the importance to remind the mass media of the risk of sensational reporting of suicide.

20141128 visit to Taiwan Apple DailyIn response to these findings, the CSRP has published a booklet, Recommendations on Suicide Reporting for Media Professionals, in 2004. Slight changes of local media’s reporting style were observed after the introduction of the booklet. However, there is still much room for improvement in reporting of suicide news in Hong Kong.  In the effort to to make further positive changes, the Centre sees the importance in continuous engagement with media professionals to ensure proper and effective implementation of the suicide reporting guidelines.

This project engages media professionals and journalism students into suicide prevention, and, through them, to change social norms of suicide prevention at large.  Staff from the project continuously monitor online and offline suicide news, proactively remind and support local media professionals to responsibly report suicide and develop updated guidelines for reporting and online dissemination of suicide news, and sharing our experiences with international colleagues in the field of suicide prevention.

Community-based Response to Suicide Clusters in North District

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Community-based Response to Suicide Clusters in North District

Background and ObjectivesNorth D - Angie

In response to rising concerns about suicide clusters in the North District in Hong Kong in 2010, the CSRP led a three-year project to help prevent suicide in the region.  Supported by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and funded by the Lotteries Fund, the Community-based Response to Suicide Clusters in North District Project is a collaboration involving different government departments, community organizations, and the Centre with the objective to build capacity in communities of the North District to support prevention efforts of suicide and to evaluate the level of efficacy of different kinds of suicide preventive measures.

Major Project Activities

The suicide prevention efforts implemented through this project were grounded on three layers of prevention strategies:

  • Universal Prevention Strategy with the aim of arousing awareness of suicide prevention at the community level
  • Selective Prevention Strategy with the aim of enhancing awareness for gatekeepers
  • Indicative Prevention Strategy for helping those who are at risk of suicide or self-harm behaviors

More specifically, the project engaged a wide range of communities in the North District, such as schools, social service providers, and first-responders, in forms of workshops, events and exhibitions, to promote mental health literacy and awareness, as well as to provide training on supporting high-risk groups for self-harm (SH) behaviours and suicide.


Major findings/research outcomes

The project ended in March 2015 and is currently preparing reports to summarize its findings.

Implications of outcome and future directions

North D - groupAfter a concerted effort targeting SH behaviours and suicide in the community in the past three years, the North District is a more mentally resilient place today.  Promotion and training resources developed through the project continue to support ongoing preventive measures for SH behaviours and suicide in the District and beyond.  In addition, the evidence collected in the process plays an important role in shaping future prevention strategies.