An early morning news scan in my mobile revealed a suicide which was supposed to be linked with “Blue Whale game”. The body of teen had ‘evidence’s such as a DIY scarred whale made in the fore-arm. I was curious to know why one will take time to brand self with a whale and then jump from the roof. Is it a new found way to die (reminds me of a Bengali film “Hemlak Society” which depicts an underground society of Bengal which trains eager ‘suicide candidates’ into various suicide mechanism and techniques). The single incident multiplied into many within a month and most of the parents blamed a ‘game’ as cause of death. Also many ‘failed attempts’ were reported in news. Interestingly, the way it came as FAD and claimed lives, the intensity subsidised / vanished with that faster pace! I am not sure whether to give the credit to Govt. administrations, parents or youth for curbing the game in that swiftness or to appreciate the youth of today for their short span of attention! My daughter (she is 10) cannot concentrate in activity for more than half an hour (well, normally 15 minutes at the max) and keeps asking for the next excitement with repeated murmuring “what’s next”! So, most probably, the game itself was not that exciting for the youth of India, or rather, they have understood that killing self is not a good idea cause it never gives you an opportunity to ‘exhibit self as a winner” (simple, if we die, we can not enjoy the victory, right?). The life of “pokemon Go game” was not even few months! “It is rather time taking and too much of hardwork” one teenager grumbled to me over a coffee after playing the Pokemon Go.
But, jokes apart, lets be straight: India indeed is a ‘suicide capital’. Every hour one student commits suicide in India! According to the Lancet report (2012) India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for youth aged 15 to 29. In 2015, the number of student suicides stood at 8,934. In the five years leading to 2015, 39,775 students killed themselves. The number of attempted suicides, many unreported, is likely to be much higher. In 2015, Maharashtra reported most student suicides of any state: 1,230 of 8,934 (14%) nationwide, followed by Tamil Nadu (955) and Chhattisgarh (625). Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are among India’s most advanced states, and their high rate of suicides could reflect the pressures of economic growth. A small state of India, Sikkim has the highest suicide rate. According to HindusthanTimes report, conversations with counselors revealed that young people find it difficult to cope with failure in examinations and careers and neither families nor other social institutions offer adequate support or solace. Professional help is difficult to find because India endures an 87% shortage of mental-health professionals. The highest technical institutions of India, like IIT sees higher level of suicide. Kota, Rajasthan, the professional coaching destination of India, is in fact named as “Suicide City”. The issue is so dangerous that many associations in Kota are innovating technologies to stop suicide! Naveen Mittal, president of the KHA (Kota Hostel Association) said that their association was working on the issue of checking student suicides for the past several months and recently they have seen a ceiling fan developed by a Gujarat based private firm. The spring is fitted in the fan in such a way that if a weight of over 20 kg is hung on it, the fan will come down. “Since the person can still commit suicide from the hook of the ceiling fan even after the collapse of the ceiling fan, we are working on fitting a sensor into the fan which would be connected to a hooter and would sound as soon as the ceiling fan collapses”, said the association president. Kota has more than 700 hostels.
So, less than a dozen death (in a span of few months) due to “blue whale challenge” sounds miniscule in comparison with the number of suicides committed everyday in India. May be what’s new and exotic in these cases are linked with a ‘Russian born game’. The victims (or rather participants?) of all these cases were supposed to be depressed and hence engaged to take up the challenge. Well, I wonder, what would have happened in the absence of this game. They would have abstained themselves from committing suicide or find some other way? Is this game, gave them a purpose to die? A purpose to win, may be? I remember reality game shows in TV like Khatron ke Khiladi (the player who loves to take risk) was indeed very popular.
But, one wonders why the youth in India are depressed or so purposeless to kill self in depression. I understand, keeping the conditions of Russia at the year 2013, in which this game evolved with the broken social values and hopelessness and the perception of ‘long lost westernized richness’ was a good breeding ground for this game. Though the economy was comparatively better from the previous years (in Russia). According to the Moscow Times report (2016), the suicide rate in Russia is pretty high. Russia’s suicide rate places it among the top 3 nations of Europe. 200 to 100 youth commits suicide out of 10,000 people every year. After the tremors of Blue Whale game in 2013, last year, through a social network (VKontake) more than 130 teenagers across the country reportedly killed themselves! Russian children are becoming lonelier these days, says YelenaShumakova, a supervisor at Your Territory Online, a foundation that provides anonymous online consultations to teenagers in trouble. "A family can look happy and wealthy from the outside, but if a child joins a suicide community, it means there's been a serious lack of understanding in the family. He is basically looking for that understanding in these communities. He's looking to socialize, to be part of a group again and follow someone's example." Modern life is making us lonelier, and recent research indicates that this may be the next biggest public health issue on par with obesity and substance abuse. A recent review of studies indicates that loneliness increases mortality risk by 26%.
Well, the situation of Russia, in which the Blue Whale game was innovated, sounds similar to India! In India 65% youth shows early signs of depression (ICICI Lombard 2016)! The study further highlights that lower income levels are also a major cause of stress among people. My previous article talks about hopelessness of youth who are educated/ highly educated but has no better job opportunity/ career growth. The indifferent family members (in most of the cases, where suicide took place under the influence of this game, the family members were not aware of the activities of victim), the depression due to hopelessness of situation and current unemployment rate (According to UN the unemployment in India is projected to increase from 17.7 million last year to 17.8 million in 2017), lack of mental health counsellors (there were three psychiatrists per million people, according to data from WHO), increased depression due to peer pressure and competition and the eagerness to find a purpose in life (even if it is winning a risky ‘game’) pushes youth the take up risks / commit suicide.
About 70% of suicide victims in 2015 had an income of less than Rs 100,000 per annum, the NCRB data revealed. Though India is doing fairly well in economy but the employment and poverty is increasing (sounds similar to Russia?). But again, only economy is not the issue. An article in qz.com and scroll.in talks about India's successful youth being rich, cultured, and lonely and how India’s rising class looks for love now. In The Guardian (2017) a report stated that the youth wants to talk to their parents. They need their guidance!
Indian youth has a long history of playing ‘risky games’ which I have discussed my article published in 2009 titled “The Concept of extreme Sports in India”. Keeping this in mind and various factors mentioned above, it will not be a surprise if a social network likes “VKontake” surfaces in India after the blue whale game. The only way to curb them is to start social awareness groups, peer discussions, transparent and dependable family bonding and availability of free psychological counseling.