Blue Whale Challenge
The Mental Health Foundation has for some time been monitoring reports of an online self-harm challenge known as the Blue Whale Challenge.
Unconfirmed reports from overseas suggest it has played a role in the suicides of multiple young people. We are not yet aware of any young people in New Zealand taking part in the challenge.
The Foundation has carefully considered how best to respond to the challenge. Parents, guardians, teachers and counsellors should be aware of the danger the challenge poses to vulnerable young people, but the Foundation is wary of raising awareness of the challenge and its specific details to the young people it is targeting.
We hope the New Zealand media will join us in treading carefully when discussing the challenge. It would be unadvisable and dangerous to discuss the details of the challenge, point toward where people can find the challenge and join in, or to show graphic photos of self-harm to illustrate examples of how the challenge can operate.
The Foundation asks media to be mindful that self-harm is a contagious behaviour. Having friends or a group of people (online or in person) who self-harm can normalise the behaviour and raises the risk that individuals will use self-harm as a way of coping or expressing distress. Please keep this in mind when reporting on the Blue Whale Challenge.
Self-harm is not an uncommon behaviour for young people. It is often used as a coping strategy - a way to deal with overwhelming or intense emotions, or to cope with difficult experiences or distressing life events. Often the injury will draw blood or leave a scar, but it is not usually the person’s intent to kill themselves. Rather, it's a way of making themselves feel better by expressing the emotions they believe they can’t otherwise cope with.Sometimes, they are seeking a way to physically demonstrate the pain they are experiencing so others can know how they’re feeling.
It is timely to remind New Zealanders of the signs of self-harm and how to help.
Signs of self-harm include:
- Exposed cuts or burns
- Drug overdoses
- Frequent, unexplained injuries (like scratches or burn marks)
- Wearing long sleeves and pants even when it’s warm
- Avoiding situations where you need to expose arms or legs (e.g. swimming, PE class, etc.)
- Washing clothes separately
- Losing interest in friends and social activities
- Being part of a friendship group (both in person and online) where self-harming is a common behaviour
If you know someone is self-harming, take them very seriously. Get them urgent medical attention if necessary. Ask them if they are thinking of suicide and if they have a plan.
It’s important to:
- Be patient and really listen
- Be prepared to have difficult conversations about what the person is going through and how they are feeling
- Stay involved – don’t just have one conversation and then hope the problem is solved
- Remind them of the people they support and trust who may be able to help them, including other friends, whanau, family, youth workers, counsellors, GPs
- Help them to access professional help – offer to go with them or make their appointment
- If they would like you to, help them to make a plan of different ways they could cope when they feel like hurting themselves
- Let them make their own decisions about reducing or stopping their self-harm. Try not to judge their behaviour, but try to understand why they are self-harming.
Finally, parents and guardians concerned their children may be aware of or taking part in the challenge should support their children to share any concerns or worries they may have. Young people can sometimes find peer pressure difficult to cope with – parents and others can help by talking over different ways of saying no to things that make young people feel uncomfortable or scared. Open conversations and guidance around safe internet use can help to protect and support young people.
Youthline 0800 376 633
Lifeline 0800 543 354, Free text 234 or email email@example.com
Suicide Prevention Helpline 0508 828 865
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 or free text 4202