What drives people to put their life at risk for a selfie?

  • Supriya Sharma
  • Updated: Mar 19, 2016 19:57 IST
(Getty Images)

It had been a Sunday well spent. On his way home from the zoo with friends, 16-year-old Dinesh Kumar was walking along the Vandalur railway tracks in Chennai when he heard an electric train approaching. The boy whipped out his phone and jumped onto the track to take a selfie with the oncoming train. He misjudged the distance and was run over.

According to a data study published in January 2016, 19 of the 49 selfie deaths across the world since 2014 have occurred in India (Russia is at number two, with seven).

Last month, a college student on a picnic in Nasik slipped from a dam while taking a selfie and drowned.

While these incidents may be attributed to carelessness or plain bad luck, there are those who deliberately put themselves in harm’s way for social media likes. In February, three medical students fell into an irrigation canal near Bengaluru while taking selfies and drowned. In March, a 43-year-old man in Washington, USA, accidently shot himself dead while taking a selfie with what he thought was an unloaded gun. Last January, three 20-somethings in Mathura got themselves killed while trying to take a selfie with an approaching train.

Decoding the Mania

“Each one of us is a narcissist to some extent, but those who are very selfie-oriented are more narcissistic than the average person,” says psychologist Dr Aruna Broota. “Their emotional immaturity does not allow such people to foresee the dangers they are putting themselves into,” she says.

Dr Sameer Malhotra, director and head, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Hospitals, says the personality profile of an individual is important in such cases. “If you’re high on thrill-seeking experiences, perhaps you would put yourself in such a situation. Such people should seek help and look for the underlying problem – be it a personality disorder or impulse control issue. Those with an obsessive streak tend to become obsessed with selfie taking,” he says.

Mental health experts attribute these selfie-related incidents to an unhealthy obsession with technology. Dr Malhotra says he gets three to four cases daily of Internet addiction. “The affected age group ranges from 11 to 25. There are kids who neglect their studies and personal hygiene due to gaming or Net addiction.”

Dr Broota, who treats not just adolescents with body image issues aggravated by social media but even office-going adults for social media addiction, says people are hooked to the Net to the point of being dysfunctional. “People are stuck to their phones, are on Facebook, WhatsApp all day and night. Then they can’t get up in time for school or college in the morning,” she says.

However, Dr Samir Parikh, psychiatrist and director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, believes selfie addiction is not an illness yet. “These things happen because while taking selfies these people are so engrossed in the act that they do not take the necessary precautions. It is not about doing something extreme, it is about lack of attention.” While public awareness campaigns may help make selfie enthusiasts more cautious, it would do most people good to spend some time away from their phones. “Time yourself on the Net, increase your social activities, find a hobby,” advises Dr Parikh.

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From HT Brunch, March 20, 2016

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