Five Hong Kong police officers have committed suicide so far this year - already one more than for the whole of 2004 - and one solution to stemming the trend may lie in lessons learnt by the US Air Force a decade ago. In the mid-1990s there was a surge in suicide rates among US airmen that so alarmed the vice-chief-of-staff that he declared suicide prevention was to be made a service-wide priority. An exhaustive study of the causes of the suicide cases was carried out and an 11-point plan drawn up to strengthen social support and encourage servicemen to seek help before reaching levels of depression where they might commit suicide. The strategy appeared to work. By 2002, the number of suicides within the US Air Force had fallen by more than 50 per cent from the peak of 1994. Dr Paul Yip Siu-fai, director of the University of Hong Kong's Jockey Club Centre of Suicide Research and Prevention, said: 'Police suicide has to do with more than simply treating depression. The police deaths reflect quite a lot of financial and relationship problems which are not very different from the general population. 'It goes back to the basics of whether we have cultivated an environment for those depressed and distressed people to seek help and to promote healthy living. 'It requires an organisational effort, as in the US Air Force, and the provision of more education to improve help-seeking behaviour.'