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Blue Whale Madness

Updated on November 11, 2017

‘Blue Whale’ articles have become something of a common occurrence in the last few months, with headlines about suicides, attempted suicides, and self-harm prevalent in nation newspapers worldwide.

This so-called ‘game’ or ‘challenge’ first came to my attention when a student warned me that people are receiving a phone call and then are forced to undertake tasks which lead to them killing themselves. It sounded like a plot device for a B-grade horror movie akin to the Saw Franchise or The Ring.

Then came the Facebook messages – those intensely annoying posts that spread like wildfire, warning us of impending doom if we don’t repost with the utmost urgency. So, this ‘Blue Whale’ phenomenon was surely a hoax then? Because every chain mail that has ever spread like a cancer through Facebook has been a hoax, a scam or just outright insanity.

Yet ‘Blue Whale’ talk persisted; the number of people asking me about ‘Blue Whale’ grew on a daily basis and then finally, after hearing the umpteenth differing version of what this game was, I threw the ‘Blue Whale’ term into Google and realised that the world truly is a terrifyingly mad place.

Madness is rife in every aspect of this ‘Blue Whale’ phenomenon, from the people who have harmed themselves, to the people who have kept this story alive so long, to the shoddy journalism that has propped up the conversation about it, and finally to those who are throwing money at finding a solution to the ‘problem’.

Back in May 2016 it was reported that in Russia 130 suicides had been attributed to ‘Blue Whale’. Fast forward to November 2017, that 130 number is still being used in many of the articles talking about the subject. Does that not set some alarm bells ringing about the accuracy of this story? A year and a half after that initial report the same number is still being used? Just how lazy are the journalists who are recycling what they’ve read from other journalists?

No doubt there will be some whose deaths can be attributed to activities online, and every death is a terrible thing, but the magnitude of the problem has been overplayed. How can the number of ‘Blue Whale’ deaths make such an impact on society when there are thousands of deaths every day that barely get mainstream press coverage?

Go to worldhunger.org and you will see that staggering statistic that everyday around the world 17,000 children under the age of 5 will die from hunger. Go to unicef.org and you will see that 4000 children die every day around the world because they don’t have access to clean water. Go to warchild.org.uk and you will see that there are 300,000 children around the world active as child soldier. If our newspapers and magazines publicised this as much as ‘Blue Whale’ mightn’t the youth of today be more inclined to do something?

News has become entertainment, and currently ‘Blue Whale’ sells papers and gets clicks, because society is not interested in stories of ongoing real suffering. If it’s not the sort of news that can be later turned into a Hollywood movie, then it’s not even worth the effort of reading.

Governments are now taking action due to the hysteria caused by the ‘Blue Whale’ game. It’s staggering how quickly action can be taken and groups mobilised when it seems middle to upper class kids might be at threat. How quickly would parents be demanding greater policing of the internet if it were poor kids?

Mental health issues are serious, and the lack of access to mental health professionals, and the stigma attached to admitting a problem in Bangladesh are barriers that need to be broken down, and broken down quickly.

The High Court has issued a set of instructions that include ‘A monitoring cell of experts must be formed and the [Blue Whale] game's participants must be identified and provided with counselling.’ That something is being done in the form of counselling is welcome, but it smacks of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

‘Blue Whale’ is not the reason that people are committing suicide. It may be the end point for some who have underlying mental health issues, and it is not shocking that people who are already suicidal might find themselves together as part of the same group on the internet. The time and money being spent on the ‘Blue Whale’ problem would be far better used in identifying ways that mental health issues can be dealt with before someone even gets to the stage of joining a suicide group.

Currently schools in Bangladesh are lacking those with the training to monitor and counsel the most vulnerable students. Often, those with mental health issues are just deemed a problem and at the first opportunity given a TC and sent away to be another’s responsibility. If there is any good to come from this ‘Blue Whale’ hysteria it should be that the government requires all schools and universities, public, private, English medium, Bangla medium, to have staff members trained to deal with students who are suffering from mental health issues. It’s time to do something to get to the root of mental health issues long term, rather than just throwing out some policies while there is a more salacious news story with mental health connections.

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