What is Blue Whale challenge which has claimed 130 lives so far?
Lucknow: The mysterious death of 14-year old Mumbai schoolboy Manpreet Singh Sahani, who reportedly committed suicide to complete a dare in the deadly yet popular online social media game 'The Blue Whale challenge', has left people across the country in a tizzy.
The alleged suicide has raised several questions, such as why are teenagers more influenced to such a game which allegedly inspires players to commit suicide? How does one identify those who are most vulnerable to the vicious designs of the game? And what should be the roles of teachers and parents in preventing such tragedies?
The Mumbai Police might be probing the death of Manpreet on July 30 to find out the actual reason, but according to the international media reports, the deadly game has so far claimed the lives of over 130 boys and girls across the world.
What is Blue Whale Challenge?
The Blue Whale challenge, reportedly created by a former convict in Russia, is said to psychologically provoke players to indulge in daring, self-destructive tasks for 50 days before finally taking the 'winning' step of killing themselves, and each task must be filmed and shared as 'proof'.
During the course of the game, the participants could be asked to watch horror and psychic movies, cut their hands with blades and needles, causing self-harm.
The victims may have got involved with the game out of curiosity, but find themselves being psychologically manipulated into continuing with the tasks, according to the experts.
Unable to recognise the harm it was causing, or scared to share the details of such games, either due to fear of judgment or lack of support, the victims could become easy targets for continuing the process.
What experts say?
According to the experts, teenagers are more vulnerable because the virtual world allows them to act freely, without the restrictions prevalent in the real world, which seems to give them an adrenaline boost.
"Teenagers generally take these risks because they are vulnerable and prone to seek validation. Also, it makes them feel like they are a part of something that is bigger than them," said Samir Parikh, Director of Department Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, New Delhi.
"It has been observed that some teenagers have very low self-esteem, and rely significantly on peer approval. For them, the external environment becomes a source of inspiration, which is why they are willing to do anything to (project) a certain image," said Sameer Malhotra, Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi.
"People who are drawn to play such games may themselves be going through psychological issues like lack of focus, interest, feeling inadequate or incompetent," said psychiatrist Jyoti Kapoor Madan from Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.
"Such individuals are lured towards challenges which give them a sense of purpose while defying the socially accepted norms which they may have failed," she added.
International media's opinion:
According to media reports, 22-year-old Philipp Budeikin, who is believed to be the creator of the deadly game, said in an interview in St Petersburg that his purpose was to cleanse society by provoking people who think they are not worthy of being alive to commit suicide.
"Developers of such games are well aware of the vulnerabilities of the teenagers and know that they succumb to peer pressure easily. They are also well aware of the fact that teenagers nowadays are finding themselves unhappy, directionless and lacking goals," added Mrinmay Das, Senior Psychiatrist, Department of Behavioural Medicine, Jaypee Hospital, Noida.
In order to understand what their child is going through, parents and schools have a vital role to play. They need to spend more time with kids and keep an eye of their routine, added the psychiatrists.
"If the teenagers are seemingly lost, lonely and depressed, parents and school managements must take serious and immediate action to get them involved socially in the real world and divert their mind by providing activities or giving them something new to learn," said psychiatrist Manish Jain from BLK Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi.
The Web, being a largely uncontrolled and uncensored entity, it is very hard for us to be able to control all activities that young adults may indulge in.
"Being available to talk to children and students when they go through vulnerable times, making them aware of the dangers of such games and providing psychological and emotional support in a non-judgemental way will go a long way in helping them get out of it," consultant psychiatrist Deepti Kukreja of Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital in Mumbai said.
Parikh, who has dealt with several self-harming teenagers in his professional life, emphasised on media literacy as a measure to prevent teenagers from harmful content.
Who said what?
Renowned Indian personalities have also taken note of the serious problem which is also spreading its outreach in Indian boundaries.
Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan recently shared on his official Twitter handle, "Life is given to live, not give it up before time. Reading alarming news on a dangerous internet game being played by the young! Life is given to live, not give it up before time," Amitabh posted on Twitter.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, taking note of the death of Manpreet, said, "This game, The Blue Whale game is extremely dangerous and has been a cause of worry for everyone. The issue would be conveyed to the Centre."
Renowned Bollywood filmmaker Amol Gupte said, "In today's day and age, we are living two lives and one of them is the virtual life. We are getting imprisoned in our own selves. And our children are growing lonely. Therefore, they are trying to find happiness in the virtual world. They have taken that world too seriously."
"Imagine how lonely he was growing up. He might have no one when he was four or five years old to tell stories and mythology that our generation has grown up with. They are losing their innocence faster.
"Parents are not focusing on their (the children's) emotional quotient, but only intellectual growth. So what do you expect a child to do Living in the virtual world has gone to the next level of addiction, and it is sickness now."
"It is a worldwide problem. You know, Japan has the lowest youth ratio in the world. The average age of Japanese population is between 45 to 55. People do not get married and do not want to come to the social system... They are so engrossed in the virtual world, apart from their career building.
"Virtual world has become the real world for many people, especially younger generation."
Asked about a possible solution, Gupte, who has been working closely on developing content for children, said: "I think spending time with each other is the best way to deal with it. These days parents are not spending enough time with their kids, they are lonely, so are their kids.
"The more you spend time with your kids, you get to know each other's world, there will be a social engagement."
Bollywood actress Kirti Kulhari also commented over the issue, saying "This video is going out to all the kids out there. I recently read some article about this very strange and dangerous online game. I urge you to stay away from this kind of temptation on social media."
"Please choose wisely and maturely from the options that you have. It's great to play games which are fun and make you enjoy, but the moment it puts you or anybody around you at risk, just know it's not the right thing."