By Kim O’Hare
In April 2005, a 13-year-old girl aged 13 years was found dead, hanging from a belt and shoelace made into a noose on the door of her bedroom closet, after her brother went to her room to see why she had not come down for breakfast.
No suicide note was found. The medical examiner determined that the teen had died at 9:30pm the previous night. After the teen’s death, the family learned that the girl had confided in a cousin that she recently had played the “choking game” in the locker room at school and that a group of girls at her school had been suspended for playing the game.
A recently-released report from the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta is setting off alarm bells among parents. The report says that at least 82 children and teens in the United States have died as a result of playing the “choking game” over the past decade. And the CDC says there is no reason to presume the game is limited to the US.
The game, also known as the pass-out, blackout, or scarf game, involves intentionally choking oneself or being choked by someone else to the point where the player experiences a brief state of euphoria or a high caused by cerebral hypoxia. .
Researchers, counting media reports dating from 1995, found that 82 children aged six to 19 died while playing the game. They did not include deaths where a connection to the choking game was unclear. So, if anything, the actual number of deaths could be much much higher, because the CDC research was limited to media reports and because specific causes of deaths are not reported in all cases.
Nearly 90 per cent of the deaths occurred among males and most deaths occurred among players aged 11 to 16, with an average age of 13. Researchers found that most deaths, 95.7 per cent, happened among youths playing the game alone. Choking game-related deaths were reported in 31 states.
“This report is an important first step in identifying the choking game as a public health problem,” said a CDC spokesman. “More research is needed to identify risk factors that may contribute to kids playing the choking game and to determine what may help to reduce this type of behaviour.”
In most cases of deaths, the children were playing alone and their parents were not aware of the game, the researchers said.
“Because most parents in the study had not heard of the choking game, we hope to raise awareness of the choking game among parents, health-care providers and educators, so they can recognize warning signs of the activity,” said lead author Robin L. Toblin. “This is especially important because children themselves may not appreciate the dangers of this activity.”
The CDC says signs a child or teen may be playing the game include:
- Discussion of the game.
- Bloodshot eyes.
- Marks on the neck.
- Severe headaches.
- Disorientation after time spent alone.
- Ropes, scarves and belts tied to furniture, doorknobs or found knotted on the floor.
- The unexplained presence of things like dog leashes, choke collars and bungee cords.
Parents who believe their child is playing the game should speak to them about the life-threatening dangers and seek additional help if necessary, the CDC says.