Chile — 12 May 2017

blue whale chile

by
McKenzie Ingram

photo credit: Cedoc

Santiago, Chile. 9 April 2017.

While most childhood antics seem innocent and fun, a game with suicidal tendencies has come to the attention of the Chilean public that is cause for serious concern.

Ballena Azul, signifying Blue Whale in Spanish, is a suicide game that originated in Russia and has spread through social media to numerous Latin American countries.

Named for the marine species that draws close to the shore when it is prepared to die, Ballena Azul consists of a series of fifty challenges for kids from approximately twelve to fourteen years old. These challenges include staying awake for extended periods of time and cutting the shape of a whale into the participant’s arm, eventually culminating in suicide on the date determined by the coordinator of the group.
The game was invented by twenty-one year old Philipp Budeikin, who claims he created the game to rid society of “biodegradable waste” who threaten the well-being of others (debate.com). He stated in his interview from prison that his game gives participants the “quality, comprehension, and communication” that they otherwise lack in their lives. In 2016, he was linked to the suicide of 130 children in Russia and found guilty of organizing eight “death groups” with suicidal intent.

According to Telesur, there are currently thirty-one Ballena Azul victims in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Uruguay and over 18,000 followers of the Spanish-speaking Facebook group alone.

Seven known cases of Ballena Azul presently exist in Chile, including a pre-teen in Antofagasta with more than fifteen lacerations on her arms. While the participant’s mother initially denied her daughter’s involvement, the twelve-year-old later admitted that a friend from her previous school had introduced her to the game through social media.

Two of the other Chilean cases were contacted and threatened by a group coordinator to join the suicide squad, while the remaining kids discovered Ballena Azul through their own efforts.

One boy in Coronel, Chile, falsely proclaimed his involvement in Ballena Azul as a childish stunt to get more Youtube followers, further revealing the vulnerable social nature of Ballena Azul targets at such a young age.

With the rising popularity of television series such as “13 Reasons Why,” which graphically delves into the people and situations that lead the fictional character to take his own life, the dangerous messages of technology today are certainly normalizing previously taboo topics, for better or worse.

Because of the headlines provoked by Ballena Azul, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet recently launched a national cybersecurity plan to exemplify Chile’s democratic values and educate the public on the dangers of technology and how to best utilize this resource.

According to psychology researchers Tomás Baader Matthei and Francisco Bustamante Volpi, Chile has the highest adolescent suicide rate in Latin America (El Mercurio).

While community and state-level organizations such as the National Program of Suicide Prevention and Chilean Alliance against Depression are currently attempting to fight against suicide’s dramatic national presence, more than mere coalitions will be needed for suicide to relinquish its suffocating grip on the country.

So, who or what exactly is to blame for the rise of Ballena Azul in Chile?

  • Social media and the evils of the modern age?
  • Mental health predispositions?
  • Early exposure to technology?
  • Parental negligence?
  • Peer pressure?

While it may be tempting to look for an all-encompassing cause or culprit for Chile’s recent surge in adolescent suicide, this effigy of despair has more likely been constructed and edified through a combination of some or all of these factors.

All the blame cannot rest solely on parents, technology, or the government, because rising suicide rates and the parasitic presence of Ballena Azul in Chilean culture is a systemic issue.

For this reason, searching for a scapegoat will not fix the problem at hand; however, joining hands across borders, organizations, and communities to confront this issue from multiple angles will begin to eradicate the presence of suicide from Chile.

It certainly seems that the first step to lift Ballena Azul’s heavy burden from the hearts of Chilean people would involve removing the inherent stigma of suicide so that an open dialogue can finally begin to take place.

There is a comment section below if you would like to start that journey.

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