Stories about the Blue Whale challenge have filled the South African media over the last few days, receiving mixed reactions from the public. Some have expressed frustration at the coverage of what they believe is ‘fake news’, others have responded with concern and questions about how to keep our teens safe.
While investigations into this news story continue in order to gain more clarity on the issue, the publicity surrounding the Blue Whale online game has brought to the fore an important matter that the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is passionate about, and one we should be speaking about more – teen suicide and its prevention.
In our country, 25% of learners report having sad or hopeless feelings, close to 1 in 5 attempt suicide at least once, and 9.5% of non-natural deaths in the youth are due to suicide. There are numerous socioeconomic factors that are contributing to the distress experienced by youths, such as poverty, unemployment, and violence. To add to this, South Africa has some of the highest substance abuse rates in the world, and when substances combine with sadness or hopelessness, the consequences can be tragic. The introduction of a virtual game like Blue Whale into such an environment could place teens who are already vulnerable, at greater risk.
What is currently being reported locally and internationally about the Blue Whale game is that it asks users to complete potentially harmful challenges in a build up to the final task of committing suicide. It was allegedly initiated in Russia, and one of its originators is quoted as saying that through this game he is “cleansing society”.
Although this may sound ridiculous and it could seem impossible that anyone would even participate in such a game, it’s vital to remember that adolescence is a turbulent time. Cassey Chambers, Operations Director of SADAG, says: “The teenage brain is still developing and emotions are intense. Teens engage in experimentation, they may have a fragile self-esteem, and the peer pressure at that age should never be underestimated.” The technological development that has taken place has added a new dimension to teen life, which poses a unique parenting challenge. “If you are worried about a teenager in your life, the first thing you can do is not be afraid to speak to them about difficult topics – uncomfortable emotions, bullying, suicide, harmful online content,” advises Chambers. “Ask them what they think, discuss the difficulties they’re facing without judgement or immediately trying to solve the problems. And really listen to what they have to say, imagine being in their shoes, empathise with what that must be like.”
Any teens or concerned loved ones who need help can contact the SADAG Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 seven day a week between 8am and 8pm, or the 24-hour Helpline on 0800 12 13 14. Those who would like to be contacted by a SADAG counsellor can send an SMS to 31393. SADAG also hosts teen suicide prevention school talks – to arrange such a workshop for your school, call Justine on 0800 21 22 23.
Teen Suicide Warning Signs
- Sudden changes in behaviour
- Trouble at school or a drop in marks
- Mood swings
- Depressed, hopeless, empty or angry feelings that seem to last
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Not engaging in activities previously enjoyed
- Talking about or being preoccupoed with death
- Saying that there is no reason to live or that it would be better if they were gone
- Greater impulsivity or impatience
- Giving away favourite personal belongings
- Increased use of substances
For more information or press queries, please contact Cassey or Dessy