As commented on in this meta post, if someone is seriously considering self harm or suicide, then we have to close the question and direct them to the relevant sources. However, what about people whom need help talking to people who feel like that? Should we take the same stance and just refer them to the various suicide hotlines ourselves? I'm mostly making this to be 100% sure and have some community agreement that this particular sort of question is not allowed, for example a question would be:

"How to break bad news to a depressed person?"

In my opinion the various hotlines and help charities will be far better equipped to help them than we are.

Community Question - What to do if I/Someone I know is feeling depressed/suicidal?

  • 3
    I think this is an important discussion to have because it's probably going to happen somewhere down the line.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 12:51
  • @HDE226868 I was debating whether to wait for it to actually happen first but decided it would be better to know what to do before it happened. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:04

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: Close these questions as off-topic and (maybe) point them to a canonical question-and-answer.

My main reluctance about these questions is the consequences for when folks get answers wrong. I think this point has been briefly bounced around in chat in general cases, but it's especially relevant here. When a person - preferably with the help of others - is trying to help someone who may be suicidal, mistakes cannot happen. A person's life may rest on whether or not those who care about them can help.

As Shog's Software Engineering Meta post says,

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.

I bring to your attention the worst-case scenario for Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange:

  1. A well-intentioned, trusting person comes here looking for help for a friend contemplating suicide.
  2. More well-intentioned folks give advice, even if they're not sure or trained.
  3. The trusting person goes with some of the more highest-voted suggestions, and they turn out to be wrong.
  4. I don't have to spell out the potential consequences.

Now, you might say, "Well, people are responsible with their votes, and won't upvote bad suggestions". Okay, sure. That's true for most cases. But going back to Shog's answer, who here is qualified to vote on those suggestions? Almost nobody. If very few people are actually qualified to answer or vote, then we'll either have a slew of incorrect and potentially dangerous answers, or one or two answers which might be right, but cannot really be confirmed.

People who use this site are/will be very trusting. C'mon, you're going on to the Internet and taking the advice of random strangers whom you may never meet or know anything about! On a different Stack Exchange site - say, Physics - people won't necessarily take advice the same way1. But here? Well, users expect that our advice is good, and they'll often take it. And that can go very, very wrong.

I think we should make individual requests for dealing with these situations off-topic.

One thing we could do if we do make these questions off-topic - and even if we don't - is to make a generic, canonical How-to-deal-with-a-suicidal-close-friend/relative post, applicable to most situations. This might have

  • Links to various suicide hotlines, which could be useful to both the asker and the person thinking about suicide.
  • People/organizations to contact in the event that this person the asker is talking about does start to go through with a suicide plan.
  • Words of encouragement, like on Shokhet's Meta Stack Exchange post (which you linked to).

We could then close any of these questions as duplicates of the canonical one.

The thing is, I would consider the accuracy of this post to one of the single most important tasks this site could undertake. It could mean the difference between life and death. Are we comfortable with that? Maybe, maybe not. Some of the points brought up before might serve to rightfully discourage this. Who is really qualified to write this post, or judge it's accuracy? Is Stack Exchange even the right place for this content?2 This is a discussion we'd need to have if we indeed want to move forwards with this.

It could save someone's life or it could inadvertently end it. I don't know, and I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with that uncertainty.

1 If that sort of thing ever arose.
2 In other words, by placing advice on a site like this, would we be accidentally implying that folks should go to forums or unofficial sites, rather than to authoritative suicide prevention resources?

  • 1
    I may construct a community/wiki post for the generic, canonical question, while I understand your concern that it could be inaccurate, part of my voluntary work is to deal with users that claim to be depressed/suicidal. While I have no training to deal with them, our informal training is based around direction of users to the relevant helplines and we have a large amount of information to help get them to the correct sources. Unless anyone objects to the creation of one of course :P (just a general thing would this be a meta post or a main site post?) Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 13:21
  • @Crafter0800 Community wiki is definitely the way to go. I'm glad you'd be willing to start going forward with it.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:20
  • This will be my first wiki, so we shouldn't be expecting great quality content however I will try my best to include as much of the necessary and important information as possible. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:58
  • interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/370/… I believe I have created it. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 15:00
  • @Crafter0800 I have very big concerns with the existence of that post. Mental health situations can't be treated with a catch-all answer. The information in that answer is also quite misleading for many situations. We can't address it, and situations that mention at-risk users need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. That post can potentially do a disservice to anyone who finds it. Questions shouldn't be closed as dupes, we shouldn't provide any advice (leave that to the pros)... That post is very dangerous and risky.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 6:09
  • Basically, I have issues with the factual content of that answer, as well as the way we are designing it to be a catch-all question for mental health situations, and a target of which to assign duplicate answers. I don't necessarily want to repeat myself again here, but if I do I will. But I did address most of the issues in this meta post: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1350/16
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 6:14

I definitely agree with HDE 226868, as far as posts regarding suicide prevention. If we have any post, it probably aught to be a single, canonical, community wiki.

I would go a step further and reach out to a professional, who works in suicide prevention, for help with writing it though. The stakes are too high to get it wrong, and I wouldn't be surprised if someone in the field would be more than happy to help.

Beyond that, once we had said post, I would strongly recommend using a historical lock, or similar, to prevent comments and vandalism. When updates need to be made users could bring them to meta, get feedback and approval, and then request that a moderator temporarily unlock the post.

Also we should probably separate issues as far as general depression and suicide prevention. Depression is incredibly common and few people who experience depression are suicidal.

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