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Br J Psychiatry. 2005 Jan;186:67-73.

Charcoal-burning suicide in post-transition Hong Kong.

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  • 1HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.



Charcoal-burning, a new suicide method, emerged in Hong Kong during the latest economic recession. Within 2 months charcoal-burning had become the third most common suicide method.


To examine the characteristics of suicides by charcoal-burning, and to delineate the pathways linking macro-level economic and social changes with the subjective experiences of those surviving a charcoal-burning suicide attempt.


Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used. In the coroner's records study, the first 160 cases of suicide by charcoal-burning were compared with a control group. In the ethnographic enquiry, we interviewed 25 consecutive informants who had survived serious suicide attempt using charcoal-burning.


People who completed suicide by the charcoal-burning method were more likely to have been economically active and physically healthy, and were less likely to have had pre-existing mental illness. Charcoal-burning suicide was associated with overindebtedness. Media reports were pivotal in linking overindebtedness and financial troubles with charcoal-burning.


The political economy of suicide by charcoal-burning illustrated how historical, socio-economic and cultural forces shaped the lived experience that preceded suicide.

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