So at the moment, the news that broke the internet and continues doing so, is the “the blue whale challenge”. The first time I heard of it, I assumed it had something to do with saving beached whales, since in my opinion it’s a very challenging task. Little did I know that the name was symbolic! Whale beaching is a phenomenon wherein a whale is assumed to enter into shallow waters or the beach upon experiencing any sort of discomfort- this peculiar behavior is linked to suicide but the causes behind this are unknown.
So coming back to the game, it allegedly consists of a series of tasks assigned to players/challengers by administrators. Usually one task is allotted per day and the challenge spans over a period of 50 days. The tasks consist of seemingly harmless things like waking up at 4:20 AM, standing on a roof, listening to music and watching videos of horror movie clippings sent by the administrators to tasks involving self-mutilation like carving a specific pattern on one’s arm (images of these went viral), human embroidery (image below)and the last one being committing suicide. These tasks should apparently be performed only after 2 am every day. So what is it that drives one to take up this challenge? The answer could be depression and feelings of inadequacy.
As a budding psychotherapist I have constantly witnessed my senior colleagues willing to go the extra mile and beyond to put a smile on our patients’ faces and it sent chills down my spine when I came to know that Philipp Budeikin who invented the game was a former student of psychology. On being questioned about the rationale behind this game, Budeikin who hails from Russia stated that his aim was to “cleanse” the society by pushing to suicide those he deemed as having no value. This game has claimed over 100 lives worldwide. At least five lives have been reported to be claimed in India and survivors who were rescued in the eleventh hour shared chilling details that the challenge is not an app or a game; it is in fact a link customized for individuals by the blue whale admin that is sent via Whatsapp. When the players do not wish to continue playing any more they apparently received death threats from the game admins. It sent a sigh of relief across people from all affected countries when a 17 year old Russian girl who was the alleged administrator of the challenge got arrested. She had also allegedly threatened her victims that she would murder them or their loved ones if they didn’t complete the challenge. She had apparently played the game herself but didn’t commit suicide and instead became one of the admins.
The blue whale challenge has sent waves of panic worldwide as it brings forth two worrisome aspects: the depth and reach of darknet as well as the gullibility of human beings. This calls for a two pronged strategy to tackle the blue whale menace.
The way forward: BE THE PHOENIX
Strengthening cyber security measures by the government to filter out such dangerously spurious links and games should be the first step towards minimizing suicides due to the blue whale challenge. One should also be trained to exercise caution before submitting personal details to seemingly harmless unknown online entities.
J K Rowling in her “Harry Potter” fantasy series talks about a flamboyant bird called the phoenix. Although the phoenix may seem irrelevant to the topic at hand due to its mythical origin, it is helpful, because according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “we live by our imaginations, admirations and sentiments(and not just in concrete reality)” . The phoenix has several noteworthy qualities that would in fact help one avoid suicidal thoughts, some of which are as follows:
- “Phoenix tears have healing powers”, well guess what, so do yours! According to Judith Orloff, emotional tears have special health benefits since they are a means to excrete stress hormones i.e. cortisol. Biochemist Dr. William Frey found that crying not only excretes cortisol and toxins but also stimulates the production of endorphins-our painkiller and happy hormones thereby offering an emotional release. So having a good cry while feeling sad enables one to feeling cathartic and makes one feel better even when the problem still exists. So the next time anyone tells you that only weak people cry, you ask them to take a hike or show them this piece of info!
- “Phoenixes carry extremely heavy loads and still fly great distances”– Most people stuck in a sticky situation such as a debt trap or providing for a big family on a low income often choose to take the easy way out by committing suicide. In the Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets book, the phoenix blinds the menacingly lethal basilisk at great peril to itself and yet manages to fly up a lengthy tunnel while bearing the weight of 4 persons. So also, we must try to perform our tasks optimistically without feeling too burdened by our hectic and demanding schedules by develping emotional resilience. Note: (please check out DEPRESSION: LET’S GROK! to learn more about developing emotional resilience).
- “Phoenixes can survive a killing curse”– A killing curse in the human world are words that drive an individual into depression and subsequent suicide such as parents/teachers or society in general saying things (to a young student) like “it would have been better had you died rather than scoring so less or doing things to put your family to shame”. According to the Hindustan Times “every hour one student commits suicide in India, due to mental distress”. One must develop emotional resilience to such verbal maims.
- “Phoenixes have the ability to regenerate from their ashes”– Think of every situation that pushes one’s pain threshold to the next level as being a phoenix’s burning day. On the burning day the phoenix which has been looking and feeling terrible since the past few days (on account of being ravaged by way too much pressure) bursts into flames and regenerates. This basically symbolizes that as we overcome a particularly distressing situation, we dont wither away but; we initially feel burned out but eventually emerge stronger.
Additionally, establishing a robust “suicide watch” system which equips students, parents and teachers to spot and identify the first visible signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation alongside weekly pep talks by counselors, setting up a suicide helpline and having an intervention centre in close vicinity would be another good way to prevent suicides.
September 10th of every year is marked as World Suicide Prevention Day, so the next time, you feel like heading the beaching whale way, remind yourself of the phoenix within and jam out to “Staying Alive by the Bee Gees”. If you still feel blue, rush to your nearest mental health expert and get help STAT!!!
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