Now before I state the question I had when I woke up this winter morning.. this is definitely not about me, or anyone I know.


I was wondering what the protocol is for someone who claims that they want to harm themselves or indeed commit suicide? Now, this is a very delicate subject and I definitely do not want to offend anyone who has been touched by the above. But, what is the process for such a post on MSE or Meta? (I did do a search but it came up with Alan Turing)

It is a concern as some may flag as off topic (if you don't believe them) or is it the case of sending it to mod? Or do we have to take it upon ourselves as human beings to do so?

So what is the protocol? Or if there is indeed one?

So many questions so in summary.

  • what does one do in such situations? -has the above ever occurred on here?

If the community doesn't believe there is a case for such a question then downvote and I will remove this post.

Thanks again for reading and sorry if this post comes across as anything but a concern.


(As always retag if necessary)

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    $\begingroup$ What's the purpose behind this question? $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Dec 20 '14 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ The purpose I think I outlined above? Is it not clear? Sorry if it wasn't. Anyway, the purpose was merely I have being thinking about the morality of MSE and came up with an issue (or non issue) I think I will delete as I wanted to know if MSE had a protocol in place? $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Dec 20 '14 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ Could you please edit the title so it is much more specific to the topic. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Dec 20 '14 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ I'm asking because your question feels very weird. "A random concern", "this question I had when I woke up", "this is definitely not about me"... I find it a bit unlikely that someone would be concerned about this without any reason. Did you encounter this situation yourself? Are you in this situation? $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Dec 20 '14 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @najib The reason I asked was nothing specific as in I have $\textit{not}$ come across this before .. And nor do I wish any one to ever experience it. I think it was most likely caused subconsciously by the elections in terms of understanding if mods are potentially required to deal with such issues? But I am not entirely sure and all day I have felt a little uncomfortable with my own question. However, I will delete this post but I think before this post gets pushed into the wasteland it would be great to have the information placed somewhere readily for mods? $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Dec 20 '14 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ @billdubuque the title was difficult to state without being able to add context as in the post. So I couldn't think of an appropiate title..cheers $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Dec 20 '14 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Chinny84 Thanks, that's much more specific than the original title ("A random concern about protocol"). $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Dec 21 '14 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ This did occur here at MSE on December 21st (check the revision history to confirm for yourself). I flagged it for moderator attention. It has since been edited by the OP to exclude references to suicide. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Dec 28 '14 at 14:27

A similar question was answered by the SE employee Shog9 a while ago:

I hate to sound callous about this, but... This isn't a support group; y'all probably aren't trained to deal with the outpouring of grief and despair of someone you've never met and may have absolutely nothing in common with. I'm certainly not. Indeed, there's a decent chance that leaving a post like this around could end up just making things worse.

Therefore, I strongly recommend the following:

  1. Close the post as Off Topic, with a comment like this:

    It sounds like you're going through a really hard time. I'd really like to help you, but unfortunately, we're not well-equipped to do so here. Your best option is probably to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. People are on call there to talk to people struggling with the same kind of issues you are, regardless of location. US: +1-800-273-8255. If calling's not good, they can chat with you live online. Just go to this site, and you can talk with someone online from 10PM-6AM UTC: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx It might not help, but what's the harm?

  2. Flag for a moderator who can lock or delete the question to prevent discussion from continuing in the comments.

  3. For any credible threat of bodily harm - whether targeted at the author themselves or someone else - use the contact us option at the bottom of any page on the site to let us know about this. If need-be, we'll follow up to make sure the situation is handled appropriately.

This is the most recent guideline from SE as far as I know.

  • $\begingroup$ Cheers for that. I guess there does seem like some guidelines in place. So is this reflected in the question section? Not so much FAQ section. But I am not totally alone in thinking that this is a possibility and a relatively strong stance by shog is good to know. $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Dec 20 '14 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ One might add that for any credible threat targeted against a person one might also contact law enforcement (in addition to SE). $\endgroup$ – Thomas Dec 20 '14 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Thomas The implication of point 3 is that SE will contact law enforcement. They are also in a much better position to do that as they can provide more information to actually identify the person. $\endgroup$ – user9733 Dec 20 '14 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist: I would say that when you see a threat that you believe is real you don't try to make a judgement as to whether or not the threat is real. You don't ask other people to contact law enforcement, you do it yourself (in addition to contacting SE). $\endgroup$ – Thomas Dec 20 '14 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Thomas It gets rather complicated quickly because SE sites are international. I don't even know in which country a specific user is, SE can usually find this out and contact law enforcement in the correct country. Though I'd personally avoid using the slower "contact us" method and ping an SE employee directly. Any law enforcement must likely contact SE anyway to find out the identity of the person. $\endgroup$ – user9733 Dec 20 '14 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @MadScientist: So maybe one should reworded and say that if possible, contact law enforcement. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Dec 20 '14 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ -1, because I agree with dustin. $\endgroup$ – Fred Kline Dec 25 '14 at 11:58

I'm going to get a little personal here, since I have experienced suicidal ideation.

About 13 years ago, I found myself living on the streets because of severe depression. After a couple of weeks, I couldn't handle it anymore and reached out to a number of agencies who were supposed to deal with these situations.
When the suicide hotline asked for medical insurance info before they would talk to me, I hung up the phone and started looking for building to jump off.
A man who lived in the same shelter as I, recognized my agitation and followed me for a while as I tried to find unlocked stairwell doors in a few buildings.
Tony, the man who was following me (and whom I did not recognize), took me by the arm and walked with me to an outreach center he knew about. He introduced me to a mental health person who got me hooked up with a psychiatrist, a psycholgist and a doctor, all in the same clinic. After several non-effective anti-depressants, we found one that mostly worked. Eleven years later, I doubled the dosage, against the advise of everone, and now I feel like the me of thirty years ago. (I think it improved my math, too.)

During the nine years I have lived in low-income housing, where a majority of my neighbors have mental health issues, whenever I hear of someone talking suicide, I take them by the arm to the nearest hospital. (I've had two who refused to go with me and who committed suicide shortly thereafter.)

To re-iterate, I strongly agree with @dustin's position: action is better than words, phone numbers, and internet chat rooms.

  • $\begingroup$ At least someone agrees. From the voting mantra on the post, many people think it is the wrong action. $\endgroup$ – dustin Dec 25 '14 at 22:08

In addition to closing the post, I believe SX should contact the authorities furnishing the ip address and the message of the user. By doing this, they should be able track the person down so they can get the help they need. Therefore, no one will be trying to offer delicate support to an unstable person which could potential backfire. By contacting authorities, they can go to the person, determine their state of mind, put them in contact with consulars, or immediately take them to the hospital if there are that unstable.

I would like to add that maybe closing the post isn't the best. Instead, would it be possible to hide the post from everyone except the poster, mods, and SX employees? According the Daithesis-stress model, everyone has a tipping point. Since we can't accurately determine the posters mindset, we don't want them to think no one cares since they closed my post. That could be the tipping point. I think fooling them that the post is still visible could be the best practice while the the authorities are contacted.

I would like to add a little background information to why I see this approach better than the what was proposed by Shog9. The US military spends a lot of money, time, and research on suicide since they make $<0.33\%$ of the population but has a higher rate of suicide. They are even looking to see if people who do this have similar genetics. Back in 2012, they asked for volunteers to give blood for their research (I did). In the military, you are taught to contact your superior, chaplain, medical professional, etc not give a phone number if you see someone struggling. The military has already learned that they lose more men and women with that method then direct intervention. Many families in civilian societies have learned the same lesson by not directly stepping up when the signs were there. Therefore, the current procedure close a post and make a phone call only if credible is outdated and not going to help or save anyone. The company SX needs to man up and make it protocol to say always contact authorities since someone's life is potential at stake.

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    $\begingroup$ @downvoters you think doing the right think is wrong? I can tell you from many classes in the Army about suicide this is what you do to help them. You think they will call a number you furnish them slim to none. $\endgroup$ – dustin Dec 20 '14 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ If I could also accept your answer I would. Thank you for your time and efforts.you seem to have a better handle than myself on what to do in such situations. Thanks again. $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Dec 21 '14 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Chinny84 I truly don't agree with the accepted answer. Giving someone a phone number doesn't mean anything. Most people wont make that call. $\endgroup$ – dustin Dec 21 '14 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with that view point also. But the question was does a protocol exist but the fact that the current one is probably not as great as taking the extra step is what hopefully may change in the future. I agree with your statement whole heartedly. Like I said if I could accept two yours would be my personal choice. $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Dec 21 '14 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ Which military? In Israel, it's far more than $<0.33\%$. Or did you forget for a minute that this site, while based in the US, and used in English, is in fact international? How will you contact the authorities in Iran, in Indonesia, in North Korea? Who will you contact in Niger, or in the Palestinian Territories? In some cultures depression and mental problems are a huge taboo, and people will not be happy that you exposed them like that. So much that this might be the trigger to take action. Are you willing to take all that into consideration, and think about each case separately? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 21 '14 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila US but I can make that clearer. $\endgroup$ – dustin Dec 21 '14 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ (Don't get me wrong, I'm not belittling suicide, two high school classmates of mine already shot themselves in the passing years; I just don't see how it is the place of an bunch of American to get into the business of people elsewhere in the world. Not to mention that it's not always possible to verify the credibility of these messages, in the sense that I can come online tomorrow with an unregistered account claiming that this and that wants to commit suicide. Why would you believe me? Add that to the last part of my last comment, and think some more.) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 21 '14 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila when we contact the authorities here (in the country SX uses since it should be there doing), they (the authorities) will know the action to take. It may come down to them simply letting that country's authorities know hey a person with said IP address said this. The point is we are at least trying. It is better to try than do nothing. $\endgroup$ – dustin Dec 21 '14 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila if this method saves one person would it be worth it? $\endgroup$ – dustin Dec 21 '14 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ And if it causes six people to kill themselves over the shame that the exposed mental illness, or supposed mental illness caused them? Will you say it's still worth it? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 21 '14 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila countries where the people find it taboo don't post cries for help, write messages, etc. I have spend some time in Japan. Also, people who do post a cry for help are looking for someone to expose them not ignore them. You should read the US Army's warrior ethos if you think I will give it up. $\endgroup$ – dustin Dec 21 '14 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ No, that's not true. In the Hasidic societies in Israel these things are very taboo, to the point were parents will mourn a child who behaves like that. And yet, many of them do seek help outside their communities. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 21 '14 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila that is one of the smallest populations in the word. Are you saying we should cater procedures to the most minute group of people when we could have a procedure that is effective for billions? $\endgroup$ – dustin Dec 21 '14 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ No, I'm saying that you don't understand all the communities in the world. And the fact that I gave you a concrete example shows that there might as well be many other such societies. I understand that you value human life to the point that you will risk other people dying of shame just so you can feel that you have saved one person. But you should really don't feel that way. These issues are far far far faaaar too complicated to be discussed in the comments of a meta site about mathematics. And therefore this is my last comment on the topic. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 21 '14 at 18:53

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