The blue whale challenge from urban legend to real harm: Case study analyses of Chinese suicide attempters

Cheng Yan Zhu, Keith Harris, Wei Zhang, Ksenia Tsyganova, Menghan Li, Runxi Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Since 2015, there have been numerous reports, mostly unsubstantiated, of teen suicides associated with an online contest – the Blue Whale Challenge (BWC) in Russia, Europe and India. Recently, reports emerged of possible BWC cases in China. 7 Cases were selected from Chinese media reports by online searching. Multiple sources of information (e.g., published reports, social media entries) were searched and examined for detailed information about cases, to collect information on pre-game situations, game activities, and post-game conditions. Thematic analysis was used to determine themes in BWC victim antecedents, behaviors, and consequences. Two of seven cases were female. Ages ranged 11-19 years (M = 15.57, SD = 2.94). Thematic analysis of the seven Chinese cases revealed a predisposition phase (low mood, interpersonal problems, poor school performance) followed by a five-stage process of BWC involvement: 1) contact with a death-oriented game (BWC); 2) acceptance of the game’s rules and the escalating challenges; 3) BWC incidents conclusion – a suicide attempt/completion; 4) discovery by others and/or game rejection, followed by 5) personal recovery. Analyses revealed interventions are required at each victim stage, and the necessity for increased online efforts. As most adolescent cases showed school problems (e.g., poor school performance, absenteeism), we recommend increased efforts at primary to tertiary schools to assess for and address personal difficulties of students demonstrating poor school performance. Results call for a new wave of revised suicide prevention methods led by digital natives but in collaboration with government, media and communities to address unique contemporary risks.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


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