After not showing up to work for a week, 34-year-old UK factory worker Vitalijus Titok was discovered in his home, dead by helium suicide. Although this man’s actions were purposeful, incredibly, most people still do not understand the danger in inhaling helium.
Titok was found sitting up in his chair facing a window, according to the Plymouth Herald, with a mask over his face that was hooked up to an empty helium canister. The official cause of death was recorded as suicide by asphyxiation.
Death by helium suicide
We aren’t going to list any steps for committing suicide with helium. Unfortunately, there are plenty of websites out there that will and do. In fact, we are advocates against the practice of any kind of helium inhalation, and that includes sucking it out of a balloon to make funny voices, but more on that later…
Helium is lighter than air, that’s why helium balloons float. When a person inhales helium, the gas displaces the oxygen in the lungs. The more helium inhaled, the more oxygen pushed out. If enough helium is inhaled, the individual can experience rapid suffocation, an embolism, or incredibly painful burst lungs.
How common is helium suicide?
Helium suicide has grown to be among the most popular choices of “rational suicide” for people who choose to leave this world. While the method is reported occasionally here in the United States (only a handful of states monitor and report statistics related specifically to helium deaths), helium suicide has become increasingly popular in the UK.
In 2010, helium suicide was responsible for more deaths in the United Kingdom than ecstasy, marijuana, GHB, and mephedrone- combined.
Inhaling helium for laughs
Inhaling helium of any quantity is seriously dangerous, yet is consistently ignored or downplayed here in the states where it is done mainly for television skits, online videos, and party jokes. The UK takes it a little more seriously.
For example, The Tonight Show has an ongoing segment in which host Jimmy Fallon inhales helium with his guests. Take this clip with Morgan Freeman for example, which has more than 22,000,000 views as of this writing.
In contrast, British host Paul O’Grady recently filmed a skit in which he also inhaled helium on his talk show. Immediately after the show aired, it was announced that O’Grady was under investigation by UK broadcasting regulator, Ofcom for the presentation of harmful practices.
O’Grady was ultimately cleared, but later admitted to the ECHO that even he had no idea that inhaling balloon helium was dangerous, saying, “I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known about all of this hoo-ha over balloons.”
The clip from that episode cannot be found anywhere online.
Accidental helium deaths
Sadly, many people – often children – die accidentally every year from helium inhalation.
Ashley Long, 14, Jordan McDowell, 13, Micah David, 17, an 18-year-old in Vancouver whose name was not released, a pair of 21-year-olds who died together in Tampa Bay; these are all recent examples of young people who died accidentally after inhaling helium. While she did not die, a 12-year-old child singer that inhaled helium during a live skit on a Japanese TV show fell into a coma that led to paralysis.
We cannot ever condone helium suicide. In fact, it is our “non-business” mission to continue to educate people about the dangers of inhaling helium of any amount, and that includes from balloons for funny voices or helium burping.
There are other, safer ways to get laughs. Please set an example and share our message: Do not EVER inhale helium. It can kill you or your little ones.