Opinion: Dr Sagar Mundada
The Blue Whale Challenge and how the Internet is affecting our state of mind
Thursday, August 10, 2017

Over the last few days, many people have been curious to know what the Blue Whale game is and why it is pushing kids to commit suicide.

At the very outset, I would like to clear that Blue Whale game is not something that anybody can just download, it's something that you get access to when the people who run this game send you a request. This brings us to the question of who gets these requests. The basic principle here is searching for youngsters who seem to be emotionally vulnerable and having high suggestibility (doing things told to them without giving much thought to its rationale).

We must not lose sight of the far larger issue of teenage suicides in our country in the midst of the Blue Whale melodrama. Recently, Lancet medical journal described self harm to be the number one cause of death in young adults in our country. It's a topic which largely remains undiscussed.

Same is the case about mental health, which if disturbed, leads to suicide. Parents, teachers and friends must be able to identify behavior which might be a precursor to suicide.

Generally, the patient always gives some clues (subconsciously) as to his mental state.

There are certain risk factors and certain signs which if paid attention to can help us:

Previous suicide attempts

History of substance abuse

History of mental health conditions – depression, anxiety, bipolar, PTSD

Relationship problems – conflict with parents and/or romantic partners

Legal or disciplinary problems

Access to harmful means such as medication or weapons

Recent death of a family member or a close friend

Ongoing exposure to bullying behaviour such as cyberbullying

Losing a friend or family member to suicide

Illness or disability.

People should also look for behavioral symptoms and signs of self- harm. Take for example, if your child has started wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, even on hot days, or if he/she is brushing off injuries as frequent accidents. If they want to spend a lot of time alone, or withdrawing from once-enjoyed activities, etc.

Social media started with the purpose to connect people and prevent isolation has had some very adverse effects.

SELFITIS:

It’s just been three years since the term selfie was coined and the number of selfies taken in 2015 are more than the total number of photos taken in the entire 20th century.

From hobby to obsession to addiction, the selfitis menace has taken many into its fold. The very fact that it was recently classified as a variant of obsessive compulsive disorder is evidence enough.

The advent of smart phones, good frontal cameras and the multiples avenues to post your photos has turned everybody selfie crazy. Youngsters wake up in the morning and dress up well just to take a nice selfie.

You go to meet your friends, the primary objective is to take a selfie; You go to Taj Mahal, the primary objective is to click a selfie.

Sometimes it reaches dangerous proportions when people have gone to mountain cliffs and building rooftops just to get what they call 'the ultimate selfie’.

Any addiction primarily involves a tendency of a person to go to any extent to complete or get the kick.

If risking your life by going to the edge of a mountain top just so that your Facebook account gets maximum likes is not an addiction then what is?

Many experts believe that seeking appreciation through the online portal when it is missing in the real world is just a subconscious attempt to boost your self- esteem.

The recent incident in Bandra, Mumbai, when two youngsters died trying to capture a memorable selfie is a stark reminder.

So, next time you try to click a selfie, just take a moment and introspect whether you will function perfectly if you are told to stop taking them all together, the answer your mind gives will tell you whether you really have become a selfie addict.

DIGITALamnesia:

Remember your childhood days when everyone used to maintain diaries to have all phone contacts..

All of us had at least five numbers at the tip of the tongue.

Now, consider today’s situation: ask any 100 random people if they remember 5 phone numbers and an instant reply will be no.

This tendency to Google everything and anything has taken precedence over other forms of learning methods.

In the long term, this digitalization has made us forget or rather not remember the things we have or would have learnt.

FACEBOOKING:

These days what do you do when you are free and have nothing else to do? Facebook browsing? The concept of FB friends is the latest thing. The number of Facebook friends, not real life friends has become a measure of your popularity and extroversion.

Unnecessary analysis of others’ lives and comparing them with oneself has become a new source of depression. You enter a relationship, it must be announced on Facebook. You break a relationship, Facebook is the new court of law for putting forward your grievances and feelings. And the new jury is your entire friend list.

From an era where you tried to keep certain things personal to the point where everything has become public, the world has come a full circle.

WHATSAPP:

What started out as a tool to connect us with each other has now turned into a menace. There must be at least 25 groups that every person finds himself in. What had started as a tool to connect has become the biggest irritant, what with the fact it rings every second minute.

There used to be a time, just five years back when the first thing you do after waking up is brush your teeth, today it is check your WhatsApp, where Tom, Dick and Harry is wishing each other good morning.

Some have realised this and muted majority of their groups, which any way are more or less of no use.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE:

The social media like any invention of man has its pros, but like any other thing, it’s excess is not a thing to take pride in. It’s already become part of our lives. Let’s sit back and introspect for a moment if we are falling slave to this new addiction.

The situation can still be controlled. Let’s stop this mass addiction before it is too late

 

(The writer is a Mumbai-based consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist. Views expressed are personal.) 

 

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