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Delhi AIIMS documents case of Blue Whale Challenge in medical journal

This is the first time a case from a healthcare setup is being reported in a medical journal.

health Updated: Mar 16, 2018 09:37 IST
Anonna Dutt
Anonna Dutt
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
AIIMS,Delhi,Blue Whale
A file photo shows sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik creating a sand sculpture warning against playing Blue Whale Challenge at Puri beach in Odisha.(PTI FILE PHOTO)

In a first, Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has documented in medical literature a case of a boy it treated for participating in the deadly Blue Whale Challenge.

The report, authored by Dr Yatan Pal Singh Balhara, has been published in the medical journal titled Asia-Pacific Psychiatry.

Last year, when the game came to India, the media had reported several deaths possibly linked to the game.

“However, this is the first time a case from a healthcare setup is being reported in a medical journal. It is not about someone hearing about a case from someone else,” said Dr Balhara, associate professor of psychiatry at AIIMS.

The Blue Whale Challenge, which originated in Russia, allegedly dares players over a period of 50 days to do harmful tasks and finally commit suicide to win. The game allegedly requires players to carve a whale on their arms/body, watching scary clips and staying awake at nights, among others.

Late last year, a young boy was brought to the Behavioural Addictions Clinic at AIIMS by his father. According to the report, the boy received a link on his social media account. When he clicked it, an application got installed on his phone with a big “fish icon”.

The boy remembered five of the six tasks he performed — the first task was to clap twice and say ‘I am strong’, the third was to carve ‘F15’ on his forearm, the fourth was to stand in the balcony for two or three hours, fifth was carving a picture of blue whale on his body, and the sixth was to listen to a tune from the application. He did not remember the second task.

After this, his father saw the application on the phone and recollecting news about the game, deleted it instantly.

The father told the doctors that the boy had been “normal” throughout his life and they did not notice any unusual behaviour even when he was playing the game. He preferred to be alone, his father had said. The doctors, on further evaluation, found that he had some depressive features, but could not be diagnosed as a syndrome.

“It is not that the people who play these games are depressed or suffer from some kind of psychiatric disorder. It is most likely that the children are drawn into such games when they are emotionally vulnerable,” said Dr Samir Parikh, director of department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, Fortis hospitals.

“For example, if someone has had a fight with their friend and the game promises to be their virtual friends, they are likely to start playing it,” he said.

Dr Parikh’s department ran a helpline for Blue Whale challenge when several suicides linked to the game were reported.

The boy admitted to being curious about what the next tasks would have been, but after being counselled by experts at AIIMS, he no longer was willing to seek the app out on the internet, according to the report.

The AIIMS report said the child decided to play the game out of curiosity, which Dr Parikh says is one of the most common reasons for playing the game.

“In 2017, everyone was talking about the game and it does make people curious about it. And curiosity is a form of vulnerability; just like a curious student tries out drug because his friend does it and gets hooked,” he said.

“We received several calls a day for information about the game or even children admitting that they had started playing the game online,” he said.

The report suggests that parents and teachers be informed about such internet games so that they are able to spot changes in behaviour. Developing healthy internet habits and age-appropriate internet literacy is important, it said.

First Published: Mar 16, 2018 09:18 IST