September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Over the last few weeks, there has been a media frenzy surrounding the blue whale challenge, with friendly journalists asking for quotes and politicians asking for advice. Blue Whale is an Internet game consisting of a series of tasks assigned to players by administrators for a period of 50 days, with the final challenge that forces the player to commit suicide. There have been media reports of suicide by children from different states, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
But decision makers do not expect the advice of public mental health professionals like me before doing something. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others to immediately eliminate any link to “Blue Whale”. The National Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (NCPCR) urged parents and teachers to monitor children with “abnormal or erratic” behavior. The Delhi High Court, expressing concern about children who commit suicide by playing online gambling, admitted a petition to ban it. Gujarat’s main minister, Vijay Rupani, said his government would create a law to ban it.
It is obvious that “Blue Whale” has everyone – from ministers-in-chief to judges and even high-ranking journalists – extremely worried. Should we be happy that policy makers are proactive and act quickly?
It is hard to say with certainty how many child suicides have been linked to the “blue whale” until now. A Hindi report on Sept. 2 indicates that there have been at least three suicides reported in India among youths who played or sought online gambling. The NCPCR board says six children have been killed playing the game in two weeks. The media described it as an “epidemic” and sparked a frenzy that worried parents across the country. Any lost life, especially that of a child, is a personal tragedy and a loss to society, but it is important not to lose perspective.
The Million Death study published in 2012 estimated that about 5,300 children ages 0 to 14 commit suicide each year in India – about 100 children per week. Almost 85,000 men and women between the ages of 15 and 29 commit suicide each year. There are still 1600 young people committing suicide every week. Remember, this has been going on for years. We must ask ourselves why the media and policymakers have only sparked the suicides of children in recent weeks. Suicide is the leading cause of death among girls 15 to 29 years of age before maternal death. To put it simply, more young women in India die of suicide than during childbirth.
Until authorities began to panic in the “blue whale,” there was a complete lack of public policy response to this “epidemic” of suicides. A knee-jerk reaction to the “Blue Whale” situation does not replace a global policy well thought out to prevent suicide. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that each country have a national strategy for suicide prevention. One in four suicides in the world takes place in India. However, we do not have a national suicide strategy. This is quite paradoxical because India is one of the best suicide experts in the world who have done much in suicide prevention.
If you need help and need to talk to someone because you or someone you know is feeling suicidal here are some helpline numbers:
Aasra: 022 2754 6669
Icall: 022 2556 3291
Connecting India: 9922001122, 18002094353
Sneha: 044 2464 0050, 044 2464 0060