As a site about interpersonal skills, we attract a lot of questions about dealing with persons with a mental health issue, or about people that are having trouble with their own interpersonal skills because of mental health issues.

Some of these are closed as off-topic with a custom close reason of "needs professional help". Here's some examples of questions that ask about dealing with a person that has mental health problems:

How to help my girlfriend get her confidence back?
In the case of this question, the person with mental health problems and the OP of the question are already getting professional counseling themselves. People voted to close because there really isn't much we can give here:

  • We either agree with what their professional tells them to do and confirm that (see the most upvoted answer).
  • Or we give advice that is unprofessional/maybe even contradicting the professional advice they are getting, and that might thus put them in danger since we are just random internet people and don't know all the facts (we don't have a medical case-file).

How do I deal with frequent demands for attention?
In this case, users also voted to close as all the advice OP might have gotten, might have done more bad than good, on the premise that a suicidal friend needs professional help and not the advice of random internet people.

In both cases, it seems like OP's of the questions are trying to find advice on how to 'treat' or 'handle' the mental health problem itself, and therefore their questions are closed. But both questions remained open for quite some time, and one of them gained a reopen vote as soon as it was closed.

I'm arguing that these questions stayed open for too long since there is no close-vote reason that says 'Needs professional help' and so people might not even know that this is a legitimate close-reason for a question. They might even be struggling with what to say when writing a custom close-vote (as I did on these 2 questions). And that therefore, we need a custom close reason that addresses questions being closed as 'requiring professional help'.

I'd like to hear your opinions about this, and any advice as to what such a custom reason should state.

  • 4
    A disclaimer showing up frequently saying that the folk here aren't professionals and may give really stupid advice might be really necessary. We should not take us too seriously and nobody else should too. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 8:53
  • 3
    Agree with @Trilarion, maybe we could add a disclaimer box on the front page like the Law and Health sites?
    – Em C
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 14:45
  • interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/4448/… because I suspect it will be deleted, and I won't be able to see it anymore. But it is the archetypal example. And can we please not post comments welcoming new users when their questions are so terrifically distraught? It shows an astounding lack of sensitivity.
    – user3114
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 12:29
  • This meta question needs further discussion leading to a feature request, because we have been receiving numerous questions in which there have been recent prolonged debates (read 'newspaper vendor') whether or not OP needs professional help and should the Q be closed as off-topic for that reason. That shows we truly need the "requires professional help" close-reason and also community consensus on how to apply it. So please don't allow your excellent suggestion in this meta question fade away without getting resolved through discussion intended to adopt and define this custom close-reason. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 7:04
  • @EnglishStudent, I think your example in this case is a bad one. I closed the newspaper vendor questions as 'unclear what you're asking'. Because it was unclear if the OP wanted a.) Help with dismissing a street vendor (which was already asked) or b.) Help with her fears. I left a comment there (since moved to chat), but OP never really confirmed if she wanted help with her fears and to what extent these fears are influencing her life, only that she was entitled to have them. So I logically assumed that the question was about dismissing a street vendor after that. 1/2
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 7:55
  • I'm against using that question as an example here, since it was never closed as 'off-topic, needs professional help'. It was first closed as 'primarily opinion based', and now it has close-votes for being a duplicate.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 7:56
  • This is the only recent example where I was involved in discussion @Tinkeringbell. I refer specifically to Mari-lou A's now-deleted answer that began with "you need professional help." A prolonged discussion ensued (which you might still read in that answer's comments section) where I did not challenge her well-founded conclusions but simply pointed out that OP's fears may have a cultural basis but she may still need professional help. Now that's an example where 2 members were trying hard to convince each other because the site has not yet defined the scope or adopted the close-reason. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 8:03
  • Note too that Mari-lou A's original full answer about OP needing professional help may be found for reference in the edit history of her deleted answer. You can try to find more examples to support your very valid case in this meta question. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 8:05
  • @Trilarion I'm nervous about putting a disclaimer, and unconvinced. Law and Medical Sciences got disclaimers because the professionals in those fields who are active on those sites needed one to protect themselves, as well as the people they serve. On Law, it's illegal to provide advice, and to provide details online doesn't grant protections usually afforded by law. Here, a disclaimer isn't legally necessary, and I would dispute its effectiveness. You want a "disclaimer" against what? Don't take us too seriously? If that's the case, you should wonder why this site should even exist at all.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 2:14
  • 1
    @Zizouz212 " You want a "disclaimer" against what? Don't take us too seriously? If that's the case, you should wonder why this site should even exist at all." The disclaimer should be against taking us too seriously. However, the world is not black or white. So I think that even without taking us too seriously (which is probably a good idea), this site should still exist. I agree that it may not need to be expressed in a disclaimer. Maybe a motto or an introduction or something else may serve the purpose as well. I think that IPS is indeed a sensitive topic and a bit of caution might be good. Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 6:58

4 Answers 4


I think there's an important caveat to be considered on your first example...

The OP specifically stated that their partner was already seeing a therapist:

While we are seeing a professional to help her with that, I would like to be able to help her gain some confidence back.

I can understand directing people to seek professional help for certain situations, but I think we may be overcorrecting a little bit in this case. They already sought and are making use of professional help. They just had an additional question, one that doesn't really seem to be all that dire or dangerous either...

Perhaps adding a disclaimer to the end of the answers there that any solution should be run by their therapist could be worthwhile, but shutting down the question by telling someone who is already seeing a therapist to go see a therapist seems a little off.

I think we should be cautious about swinging too far in either direction. Directing suicide prevention questions to the SE staff makes good sense. Closing all questions that are vaguely related to mental health issues makes less sense.

  • It's great that the OP's partner is seeing a therapist. But that's not what's at issue here. We should be a substitute for a therapist, or offer advice that supplements the advice given by a therapist, etc. Which is what the OP was asking us to do.
    – user288
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 21:49
  • 1
    @Hamlet You meant to say "We should not be a substitute..." Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 22:01
  • @apaul34208, so you're basically saying that since in the first case, the OP's girlfriend already has professional help, it's okay to ask here? I'm getting the same feeling from the reactions to the close votes there. The second case isn't 'disputed' yet. Might this be because in this case, there is no professional help involved already? If we can draw a line here, that would be great :)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 8:14
  • Been thinking about that for a while more and: If we draw a line there, it would need a huge, humongous, ginormous disclaimer that we are in no way responsible for the correctness and effectiveness of an answer and that they always should consult with their professional first. We can't guarantee an OP will run advice by a professional first before trying it out (just as that we can't confirm somebody is actually already getting professional help).
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 15:01
  • 2
    @Tinkeringbell I think it might be important to note that people in a similar position might read those topics. While in my case i was seeking for ways to help her in addition to a therapist, there might be people taking one the proposed solution instead of a therapist, so I think we should consider that too
    – user3399
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 15:33
  • Now that I think about it, this answer does not actually answer the question, which is "should we have a custom close reason for questions where the OP requires professional help.
    – user288
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 0:15

My sister is a psychological counsellor for normal people undergoing life stress or interpersonal conflicts so I came to know that there is a very clear difference between 'normal' and 'clinical' psychological problems. Issues such as phobias, depression and suicidal thoughts clearly fall within the 'clinical' category whereas we as a community are basically trying to provide good solutions for normal people undergoing life stress in the form of interpersonal issues or otherwise seeking advice to improve their interpersonal skills -- for that reason alone your meta question is very relevant and needs considerable discussion by the community.

Alternatively an OP might present a problem whose solution requires essential help from medical/ legal/ law-enforcement/ social-work professionals which is also beyond the scope of this website.

At present any such question could only be logically closed as off-topic for this site. That reason does not help OP's understanding by much and can potentially confuse future readers.

So yes we definitely need the custom close-reason 'requires professional help' and this is the generic explanatory message I would recommend:

The problem described in this question needs professional help which is beyond the scope of this website. Kindly contact the appropriate professionals for help in your local area.

More information or even a list of contact resources might be provided* depending on the individual case.

*Clarification prompted by @user3169:

It is not necessary to do so but what I mean by information is, if we do have a list of reliable professional resources that match OP's geographical location (I mean psychological services, suicide helpline, etc) the moderators at their discretion could possibly decide to share them to motivate OP and also maybe future readers; also to avoid being perceived by OP as unhelpful, though we would have very good reason not to directly advise OP! This would not be information about mental health, but information about where to find professional help.

  • 1
    I basically agree with your answer, however once a question is decided to be off-topic because the need for professional help is indicated, providing additional information or resources would not be appropriate. Once such a decision is reached, it should be hands off for IPS since we aren't professionals, right? Also as far as I know SE doesn't care to be a referral service.
    – user3169
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 1:55
  • Yes indeed @user3169. This step is not necessary but what I mean by information is, if we do have a list of reliable professional resources that match OP's geographical location (I mean helpline, etc) the moderators at their discretion could possibly decide to share them to motivate OP and possibly future readers, also to avoid being perceived by OP as unhelpful, though we would have very good reason not to directly advise OP! (Thanks for prompting this clarification which I have now edited into my answer.) Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 2:31
  • Sorry about shutting you down on the other comment section. Given the surrounding situation of that case I was admittedly a little unsettled and I didn't want that question/answer to get sidetracked.
    – apaul
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 16:05
  • I understand perfectly @apaul34208. It's quite all right! I should also encourage that user not to ask any question relating to a real criminal activity because those questions would be inappropriate on IPS.SE Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 17:04

Alright. This is what I want to say.

After reading Should we send [depression] and [suicide] to trained professionals? and What's the official SE response to serious mentions of suicide or self-harm in posts? (suggested to me by Catija), I realized the problem isn't the custom reason for the off topic close vote. Yes we should have one. The problem is we don't always make a good judgment call about which relevant question is off topic and which is not. So let's help each other learn.

  • 1
    "I realized the problem isn't the custom reason for the off topic close vote." could you explain why? At the moment, this is more of a comment.
    – user288
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 0:54
  • Because the question about the OP wanting to help his girlfriend be more confident should probably stay open. The OP had already stated his girlfriend is getting professional help but he wanted to know what else he could do to help her. I'm sorry for not being clear but at least I feel that we should first decide whether a mental health related question is off topic or not by really paying attention to what people suggested about this issue in the readings I mentioned, which I think are good guidelines to follow. Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 3:57

Initially I was all for the notion of having a "above-our-pay-grade" close reason, but have changed my mind, because it doesn't seem very helpful to OP without at least a pointer to what kind of remedy he could pursue (might be legal, might be police, might be psychiatric, might be hotline, etc); could be several apply. I am starting to believe that upvotes on relevant suggestions would do the job better.

  • 1
    None of those example solutions involve IPS. We're here to address interpersonal skills questions. Telling someone to call the cops or a shrink isn't an IPS answer.
    – Catija
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 22:06
  • @Catija could be I'm not expressing myself well. What I'm trying to say is that the determination of whether OPs problem is legal/psychological/other should come from answers instead of moderation, because the answering public might surprise the first five close-voters with insights which suggest that the question is in fact IP-related. Mileage, variance, etc.
    – akaioi
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 22:18
  • This question isn't asking whether we should close them or not... that question is here. We have, as a site, already decided that these questions should be closed. If you'd like to add to that conversation by voicing your opinions on that question, please do so but as of right now, we've already decided they're off topic. This is asking whether we should use one of our custom close reasons for it.
    – Catija
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 22:23

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