MOE issues advisories on suicide and distress

The Ministry of Education building at 1 North Buona Vista Drive.
The Ministry of Education building at 1 North Buona Vista Drive. PHOTO: ST FILE

Move prompted by online 'game' promoting self-harm and Netflix series about suicide

An online "game" which is said to encourage self-harm, and a Netflix series about a high school student's suicide have prompted the Education Ministry to issue two advisories in its online publication.

Shared on Schoolbag.sg on Thursday, they urge parents to do more to reduce the effects of their kids' exposure to such objectionable content, and also offer tips to spot signs of distress in their children.

There are indications that content about self-harm and suicide has been trending online.

"Such content has been circulating and may negatively influence our children to view suicide as a viable way to deal with their problems, or even romanticise or glamourise the act of suicide," the site, which usually carries education news and tips, said.

The game - Blue Whale challenge - is believed to have originated in Russia and supposedly links curators with teenagers who are then encouraged over 50 days to hurt themselves before committing suicide. Teenagers seek out these curators by posting hashtags that will draw their attention.

The game has been dismissed on the Internet as a hoax and the Media Literacy Council (MLC) said investigations by various groups show no causal links between reported suicides in Russia and those part of social media groups involved in the game.

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Mr Shem Yao, assistant manager at Touch Cyber Wellness, said parents have contacted his agency, concerned by articles linking the online challenge with suicides.

"Online users should refrain from sharing such unwholesome online trends as it may give the impression that everyone is participating in it," he added.

MLC urges parents to stay up to date with online trends and talk to their children about avoiding online games that encourage risky behaviour. It added that the public should "take care not to circulate fake news...without verifying the facts and sources".

Dr Brian Lee, head of the communication programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said: "The mechanism of social media allows peer pressure to exist in a digital form. Some young people may think it is cool to participate, just because their peers are doing it."

The Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why, is popular with some youngsters here. Based on a young adult novel, it tells the story of a high-school student who kills herself after going through a series of events. Before ending her life, she made 13 tapes, each for someone she holds responsible.

A student, who has watched the series, said her peers are talking about it. The 16-year-old, who declined to be named, said: "It brings awareness to a touchy issue. But at the same time, kids may see suicide as a solution to their woes."

Schools here have raised concerns about the Blue Whale game and the Netflix series. In a note, SJI International said it is planning sessions with students to talk about the series and relevant issues, to ensure there is support available.

A junior-college teacher, in a letter to parents, also expressed concern. "It is important that we are aware of these occurrences, and that we work together to ensure our children are safe," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2017, with the headline 'MOE issues advisories on suicide and distress'. Print Edition | Subscribe