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The Blue Whale Challenge:

What parents, caregivers and youngsters need to know

Warning: The content of the article may contain information that can cause feelings of unease and anxiety for some people.

On July 10th 2017, a 14-year-old boy Jumped off his apartment roof in Andheri Mumbai. Reportedly, his neighbours saw him standing near the edge of the building. They ran towards the building to stop him, but it was too late: he had already jumped. While there is still widespread speculation surrounding his death, the Mumbai police believe that this was the first suicide in India, linked to an online “game”, called ‘Blue Whale’. Since then, there have been similar cases linked to it in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Kerala.

About the game

Blue Whale is an Internet ‘game’ that originated in Russia. It is “played” through online social media platforms such as Facebook, twitter, Instagram and snapchat. The inventor of the game, Philip Budeikin made it because he wanted “to cleanse society of weaker minds.” The game causes people to feel cut-off, isolated and depressed. It consists of a series of tasks assigned to “players” over 50 days. Each task that follows is more intense and harmful than the previous one, with the last task culminating in suicide. Others include self-harm, waking up at odd hours, and watching disturbing videos or movies.

Why do we need to talk about it?

The game has begun circulating the Indian web, and the number of cases attributed to it is on the rise. The Indian government and various social media outlets are doing their best to prevent the it from spreading. At the same time, it might also be helpful to understand who and why, one might be susceptible to playing it, and what the signs of someone playing the game look like.

Who, and why are people susceptible to playing such games?

With the rise of online chat rooms and games, younger generations use the Internet to connect with one another frequently. The newer generation is also using technology at a much younger age. While increased curiosity and knowledge is good, it can also have a negative impact, as knowledge can be misused and misconstrued. Dr.Ramya Mohan, Senior Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist and Medical Director of I MANAS London, noted that, this was the case with Manpreet, the boy who jumped from his terrace in Mumbai. “The parents were scared. They had reported that the child, Manpreet, liked coding and computer games. Sometimes, children can be targets because of their efficiency with technology and curiosity.”

Anna Chandy, TA Analyst and Chair Person of The Live Love Laugh Foundation, mentioned that people, who play these games, could be doing so because of their need to be recognised. “It is an existential, fundamental need. All of us old and young are looking for new avenues to gain it, and social media has become a medium to gain it” The problem arises when we cannot distinguish negatives sources of recognition from positive ones. “ Society is encouraging young people to use technology at a much younger age, without evaluating information for being age & context appropriate. Youngsters therefore, tend to gain their need for recognition through social media, without contemplating its source and long term effect”

Similar thoughts were echoed by Dr. Shyam Bhat, Psychiatrist and Trustee at the Live Love Laugh Foundation. He adds that people with a very poor sense of self, chronic loneliness and physical or sexual abuse in their childhood, are more likely to involve themselves in such games. Since some of these children do not feel included among their peers or loved ones, they “are attracted to it because it gives them a false sense belonging and community”. For them, the need to a part of something overpowers the negative consequences.

What are the signs to look out for?

Excessive social media usage:

Since the game is played through online portals and social media, adolescents who frequently use the internet for the same, have a higher chance of stumbling upon the game. This is how Ankan Dey, the 10th grade student from West Bengal found the game.

Mention of the game or intensions to play it:

In the past, it seems as though Manpreet, Manoj and Ankan had all mentioned the game to friends and family. Some children might even express intent to play it.

Sudden and drastic change in behavior:

Children who are usually social and energetic tend to become withdrawn. Initially, Manoj did not like travel alone but after starting to play the game, he would go to cemeteries and the beaches by himself.

Expressing suicidal or para-suicidal thoughts:

3 of the 5 reported cases in India mention that the individuals had expressed suicidal ideation in passing, to their friends and family.

Self Harm:

the game has been liked to rise in cases of self-harm across the world, as some of the tasks include carving out a blue whale on their arm.

Lowered self-esteem and anti-social behavior

Youngsters with low self-esteem are more likely to spend hours playing such games online. Alternatively, individuals playing the game may experience low self-esteem and behave anti-social because the tasks in the game require them to isolate themselves.

What can we do to help?

“Parents need to keep lines of communication always open with their child”says Dr. Ramya. It is important to create an atmosphere of trust. “If your child is going through something at school or with his/her friends, he/she needs to have a strong enough relationship with you, so that he/she can talk to you about it.” This way, you are more likely to know if your child or his or her friends are

“Parents need to ensure they are well aware of their child’s internet usage and patterns”
– Dr. Ramya.

Dr. Shyam also suggests parents monitoring their children’s Internet and social media usage especially in terms the amount of time your child spends on the Internet, and content they are accessing.

Dr Ramya states that from an organisational perspective, schools and colleges need to ensure that they are up to date with what is happening in the world around them. “Schools need to put up warning signs and foster an environment wherein the child feels safe talking about it, without fear of retribution.”

If you are feeling low and/or are having suicidal or para-suicidal thoughts, do not engage in the game to gain recognition or to feel connected. Know that there are healthier ways of feeling connected. Further, be aware that the game is final and detrimental to your mental wellbeing.

Additionally, look out for signs in your friends and community — if someone you know is either playing the game or contemplating playing it, do not take it lightly. Ensure that your friend/colleague/or child seeks help immediately.

If you feel like speaking to a professional, call our partner helplines immediately:
Aasra: 022-27546669
ICALL: 022-25521111
Sahai: 080 – 25497777
Sneha: 044-24640050

Dr. Ramya Mohan is a Senior Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist and Medical Director of i MANAS London

Dr. Shyam is a Psychiatrist and a trustee at The Live Love Laugh Foundation

Anna Chandy is a TA specialist and the chairperson of The Live Love Laugh Foundation

Sources

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