The "Blue Whale" immerses teenagers at risk of suicide

May 9, 2017 | Author: Patricia Morén

Role-playing games such as the "Blue Whale" can immerse teenagers in a dangerous challenge and even lead them to suicide. Any adolescent with a profile of vulnerability, and not necessarily mentally ill, can be hooked on these types of games through social networks. The lack of social skills and the immaturity of the adolescent brain explain this higher vulnerability of adolescence. There are many recommendations that can be followed to avoid this danger.

Teenagers are a more vulnerable group to self-destructive behavior. Every year, 1.2 million adolescents die of mostly preventable deaths, according to a report issued by WHO in May 2017 on adolescent health. Suicide was the third leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years old in 2015 (with 67,000 deaths overall), following road accidents and lower respiratory tract infections.

Older adolescents, especially girls, are more likely to self-harm or kill themselves. Globally, suicide or accidental deaths following self-injurious behavior is the second leading cause of death in older adolescent girls, most of them in low-income and middle-income countries, specifies WHO’s report. By contrast, in Spain, adolescent boys complete more suicide and, in total, the victims of committed suicides are much less than those in other countries of the European Union and even of the rest of the world.

Source: Deaths by cause (short list) by sex and age (INE)

The worldwide rate of suicide, adjusted for age, is 11.4 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a WHO report, while in Spain there are eight suicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data from the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE). In the case of adolescents, this suicide rate is much lower: from 2.6 cases per 100,000 inhabitants between the ages of 15 and 19 and 4.3 per 100,000 inhabitants between the ages of 20 and 24. Although there are not so many consummate suicides, many autolytic behaviors among young adolescents are being observed.

"Clinicians are seeing increased self-harm behaviors unrelated to suicidal ideation. These self-harm are a way of manifesting a discomfort, mobilizing the relatives and provoking changes in them, as well as trying to feel closer to some urban group or tribe", says Dr. Rebeca Gracia, coordinating psychiatrist at the Acute Hospitalization Unit of Infanto- Juvenile Hospital Universitari Parc Taulí, in Sabadell (Barcelona).

This hospital has been one of the pioneers in Catalonia to implement the Suicide Risk Code (CRS), a program through which this increase in autolytic behavior among adolescents has been detected.

Adolescence, a stage of vulnerability

Adolescence is a vital period characterized by a lack of maturity to do well in society. This lack of maturity can make the teenager an easy victim to the threats of contemporary society, some of which lurk through the Internet.

Dr. Gracia explains that "adolescents are in a maturation process, they undergo hormonal changes and they present an important instability of their mental state. The frontal lobe of the brain, that controls reasoning and the inhibition of behavior, has not yet matured . It is thecerebral region that takes the longest to mature. In addition, adolescents still have a lack of social skills”.

The case of the "Blue Whale"

This year some Internet surfers have seen a dangerous "Blue Whale”,  a social networking role-playing game created in Russia that consists of overcoming 50 challenges that include tests such as inciting to self-cut  the arms to make a whale-shaped drawing, among many others, before reaching the greatest last challenge posed by the game: to suicide.

"It is clear that teens are more vulnerable to falling into such type of games, but not all of them get hooked. They must have a certain profile: On one hand, there are curious teenagers that, due to this curiosity, tend to get more hooked on these games. And, on the other hand, there are more isolated and marginalized adolescents, without social success, that gain social recognition through the other members of the group who are playing to that same game, which reinforces the perpetuation of  their behavior. They are more solitary young people, with a lower level of self-esteem and less social skills, which does not mean that they have a mental illness. These self-injurious behaviors can affect any adolescent, without any mental disorder, but with a vulnerability profile”, reports Dr. Gracia.

Recommendations

To avoid falling into dangerous games such as the "Blue Whale" or others that incite the teenager to self-harm or take his life, Dr. Gracia makes the following recommendations:

  • Monitoring what contents the adolescent has access to and what use he or she makes of them.

  • Observing changes in adolescent’s behavior.

  • Limiting internet access hours.

  • Encouraging physical social relationships, so that adolescents have a real social network, ie friends or a social support group, instead of maintaining only virtual relationships, resulting in an unhealthy behavior

  • To do this, it is necessary to start from the interests of the adolescents and to look for activities that match with their interests. For example, if a teenager is a Manga fan, he or she might be assigned to a workshop to learn how to draw Manga, where he or she will be able to interact with other teens.

  • If self-harm is suspected, the adult should supervise this sign but from a distance, because the adolescent can perceive it as an interference in his affairs.

Net surfer, be alert with the “Blue Whale”, so that it does not drag you to the bottom.