7

We have been getting a small but significant number of questions where one or more of the people in the stated situation need professional help. The IPS.SE community apparently had come to a consensus on an earlier meta question that such questions should be closed as being beyond the scope of this site.

Note: This was clarified by @Catija's comment under an answer to @Tinkeringbell's later question referenced here, which I quote:

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♦ Oct 3 at 22:23

So @Tinkeringbell asked this most pertinent meta question:

Should we get a custom close reason for 'needs professional help'?

After some discussion and a few answers (including mine, supporting OP's proposal, assuming that OP was actually asking for this custom close reason) this question seems to have become dormant without leading to a particular conclusion.

13 upvoters have agreed with OP so far and none voted against yet.

I am certain that we need that custom close reason. 'Off topic' is not specific enough because such questions are not so obviously off-topic and many people have posted meta questions asking why the question was closed as off topic. Protracted debates have resulted in some cases and wasted the energy of multiple users. So our custom close reason needs to spell it out that we are closing the Q because professional help is required, which is beyond the scope of this website.

So what should be the exact wording of that close reason?

This was my suggestion on the earlier question:

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.

Please discuss this wording, vote on it and suggest improvements.

I would also like to know what is the site decision on the matter in question and what action can we expect in terms of getting the 'needs professional help' custom close reason?

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  • There is no close reason written... so we can't really make a close reason. The highest voted answer isn't even suggesting a close reason, it's hazarding us to be cautious in applying the close reason too much. – Catija Oct 12 '17 at 2:52
  • May I interpret that OP was not actually asking for the 'needs professional help' close reason @Catija, or was it that the community remained unconvinced/ undecided about the need to have that custom close reason, preferring to continue to use the more general heading 'off-topic'? – English Student Oct 12 '17 at 2:59
  • The last sentence of that question reads: "I'd like to hear your opinions about this, and any advice as to what such a custom reason should state. So.... to some degree it is asking what the close reason should say. – Catija Oct 12 '17 at 3:02
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    I did now realise that the question was not a feature-request but asked only for discussion @Catija. However the 13 upvotes for OP and no downvotes seem to indicate a broad agreement that we do need a 'requires professional help' custom close reason, whose actual wording needs to be determined. – English Student Oct 12 '17 at 3:03
  • Ah... you posted this a day or 2 too soon :) I was actually working on writing up an answer to get that one going again! Feel free to give your input as well :) – Tinkeringbell Oct 12 '17 at 5:43
  • Glad to hear that @Tinkeringbell. My mentor at English.SE (Mari-lou A) has been very clear that we must fully pursue, support and keep going our own questions right up until we get the intended result or the community gives a proper verdict, both on main and meta! – English Student Oct 12 '17 at 12:35
  • So ask about the wording. This is essentially a duplicate of that question. – Catija Oct 12 '17 at 18:27
  • See my edit to make this question explicitly about the wording of that close reason, starting off by quoting my own earlier suggestion for the closing message, @Catija. – English Student Oct 12 '17 at 19:25
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    Thank you. Now edited and simplified the title, please see @1006a. – English Student Oct 12 '17 at 22:08
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This answer follows guidance from Robert (that applied to a different category of close-worthy questions). I personally feel that style takes too long to get to the point of what's wrong with this question, but I think the style of that answer's proposal is otherwise good. So here's a variation on it that tries to keep the soft, helpful tone with fewer words:

Needs more assistance than we can provide — this question goes beyond the tools we use to interact with other people on a day-to-day basis and requires the assistance of licensed professionals (therapists, physicians, lawyers, etc). For more information, please see our [meta post].

The to-be-written meta post can explain in more detail and point to other resources.

This briefer style has been in use for years on two sites I moderate, and so far I haven't seen much friction. For reference, those close reasons are:

Mi Yodeya:

Questions asking for a practical ruling (p'sak halacha) are off-topic. For practical advice consult your rabbi. Try to broaden the question so it applies to a wider audience, such as by asking what sources are applicable to the question. (More information.)

The Workplace:

Questions seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies should be directed to your manager or HR department. Questions that address only a specific company or position are of limited use to future visitors. Questions seeking legal advice should be directed to legal professionals. For more information, click here.

On Mi Yodeya the question can sometimes be rephrased, hence the guidance there. On The Workplace, questions with this close reason usually can't be made on-topic, so we direct the user to other resources. It sounds like IPS's situation is closer to The Workplace's than to Mi Yodeya's.

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    Thanks for a solid answer and a very compact (yet very clear) close message @Monica Cellio. I especially appreciate how you used your experience on other sites to effectively help us here. – English Student Oct 17 '17 at 20:21
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If we're trying to base our close reason on the recommendation of Robert, let's look at his examples:

If this is going to happen, it will take a bit of study for me to write it up. It's a delicate balance between brevity and making a clear, strong point. The idea is to (1) start with an affirmative statement about what the site is about so it becomes all but self-evident when the close description (2) describes where their problem statement went wrong in the context of that site. Optionally, (3) it should give them to an action item. See some recent examples here and here.

On Ask Patents:

"Production and Technology Questions Are Off Topic — Ask Patents is a community-run website to ask about the patent process or to help find Prior Art on US Patents or Applications. Unfortunately, questions about the underlying technology or production of products covered by these patents are outside the scope of this site. Sorry about the confusion." – Robert Cartaino

On Lifehacks:

"Does not seem to need a life hack — A "life hack" is a seemingly intractable problem that can be solved by thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, everyday "How to…" questions about learning a craft or new skill are outside the scope of this site. See about Lifehacks. If the author can show how this needs an "outside the box" solution, edit and 'flag' to reopen."

So, based on this, we should be writing something like:

Needs more assistance than we can provide — Interpersonal skills are the tools we use to interact with other people on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes these interactions are affected by issues that require the assistance of licensed professionals (therapists, physicians, lawyers, etc) and questions that indicate this need are outside the scope of this site. (Optional) For more information, please see our [meta post].

This still needs some work. It's a bit wordy but it coveys what I think we're trying to tell people.

I think that there are two things that we absolutely must have in conjunction with this close reason:

  1. A comprehensive FAQ here on Meta that explains when it is appropriate to use the close reason at all.
    I think that many questions that involve mental health or legal concerns are completely within our scope. We need guidance to teach people when this close reason should be used.
  2. A post that is to be used for helpful resources for each of these issues.
    This may require some periodic maintenance but I find that closing someone's question in these situations without giving them some guidance on where they can get help does a disservice.
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  • "I think that many questions that involve mental health or legal concerns are completely within our scope. We need guidance to teach people when this close reason should be used." Absolutely right. +1. The 'needs professional help' close-reason is to be used sparingly and judiciously, only for those cases where the solutions are really in the professional domain and therefore beyond the scope of IPS. So OP expressing generally anxious statements or generalised fears isn't really a reason to close on these grounds? That close message is also looking much better worded now, thanks @Catija! – English Student Oct 17 '17 at 3:28
  • I think you should add the close reasons from health, law, parenting, and perhaps Christianity for comparison. Lifehack's in particular really just looks like an off-topic explanation rather than a needs professional help close reason. – curiousdannii Oct 17 '17 at 3:46
  • @curiousdannii I'm using the examples Robert gave for his style of writing these close reasons. The reason the question is being closed is irrelevant to this style. The Parenting close reason for this doesn't meet this need at all. "Requests for medical advice are off-topic here; you should contact a qualified medical professional instead. See: How do you know when it is time to take a child to the Doctor?" I don't have accounts on the other sites. – Catija Oct 17 '17 at 3:49
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    @Catija I think the fact that most sites don't follow Robert's pattern shows the pattern isn't essential. And remember, he didn't even post that message in regards to this close reason, but phrasing requests! – curiousdannii Oct 17 '17 at 3:52
  • My point @curiousdannii is that I find the Parenting close reason somewhat lacking. Robert's recommendation is relatively new and I, personally, like it. Please, if you have a better option or more that you want to consider, post your own answer... – Catija Oct 17 '17 at 3:54
  • @EnglishStudent OP expressing generally anxious statements or generalised fears isn't really a reason to close on these grounds --> if an Interpersonal Skills solution isn't able to alleviate these fears/anxiousness (so if these fears or anxiousness are suggested to be broader than the situation the OP asks help for = generalised IMO), yes, they need professional help so they can have the benefit of having all their problems fixed. If it's really about a fear/anxiety in a specific situation only, professional help might be suggested in an answer but it's no reason to close the question. 1/2 – Tinkeringbell Oct 17 '17 at 18:50
  • But that's maybe a better discussion to have in this meta, so we can refer and educate future users to that conclusion ;-) 2/2 – Tinkeringbell Oct 17 '17 at 18:51
  • BTW, although I made another attempt to edit my suggestion, I'm personally liking this one as well :) – Tinkeringbell Oct 17 '17 at 18:52
  • Take-home message for close-voters: there would be many cases where "professional help might be suggested in an answer but it's no reason to close the question." So we must learn to use the 'needs professional help' close reason only for those cases where, as you said, interpersonal solutions really won't help OP, @Tinkeringbell. – English Student Oct 17 '17 at 20:17
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Yes, we need a custom close-reason to close questions that require professional help.

I've done a quick investigation: On the 12th of October 2017, out of 107 questions that are currently closed/on-hold, at least 12 are closed and have comments to the general core of 'this is something where the OP would benefit of professional help'.

10 of these are closed for 'needing help from a mental health professional'

These were closed as 'needing help from a mental health professional' but their closure is discussed here on meta since a professional is already involved:

This one is closed as 'needing help from a medical professional'

And for this one (since deleted), getting legal advice was mentioned in the comments:

So, I feel safe concluding that IPS is a site that attracts a substantial amount of questions that are better off with some professional help, and should thus be closed.


Now, on to what such a close reason should state. There were some attempts in my original question, but those weren't really very fit. I think we must be careful here, to find a balance between saying 'we're not fit to help you' and don't sounding like 'we don't want to help you'.

This comment by RobertCartaino also gives some nice guidance on what a custom close-reason should entail:

@Tinkeringbell If this is going to happen, it will take a bit of study for me to write it up. It's a delicate balance between brevity and making a clear, strong point. The idea is to (1) start with an affirmative statement about what the site is about so it becomes all but self-evident when the close description (2) describes where their problem statement went wrong in the context of that site. Optionally, (3) it should give them to an action item. See some recent examples here and here. – Robert Cartaino♦ yesterday

So, keeping that in mind, I've made the following message:

This situation requires professional help, not an interpersonal skills solution - An interpersonal skill is the ability to interact/communicate well with other people. This is something that you should take to a professional (be that a psychologist, doctor or lawyer). We are unfit to help you fix, cure or treat something that is a (or is a consequence of a) medical/legal problem. See <-link to source/post with guidance-> for guidance on writing questions fit for IPS.SE.

As Catija rightly points out in the comments, we need a link to some guidance on how to write good IPS questions. I'm suggesting that we make such a page, like this on lifehacks, so that we can have an action item/link to guidance in our close-message as well.

Initially, such a post needs only mention the points that we've all agreed on here on meta. If we think anything should be added, we can discuss it in another meta post. If we think things should be removed, make another meta post to discuss it. This should prevent edit-wars on that post.

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  • The wording of the close reason looks pretty good, but I would drop the last sentence. While we are unfit, the "very serious" could be taken the wrong way. People could interpret that to mean that less serious issues are ok, or feel slightly insulted by the implication. – apaul Oct 14 '17 at 15:55
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    Also "This needs professional help" might be better worded as "This situation requires" or "This question requires" – apaul Oct 14 '17 at 15:59
  • @apaul I've taken out the -very serious- from the last sentence. And yes, this situation requires is better than 'this needs'. Can you proofread again please? – Tinkeringbell Oct 14 '17 at 17:08
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    "(consequence of a)" might be better as "(or is a consequence of a)" not sure if it matters that much, but it sounds a little better. – apaul Oct 14 '17 at 17:49
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    Thanks for a comprehensive answer, and congratulations on joining the 6000 rep club @Tinkering B -- your suggested close-message is also very clear but do we really need the last sentence? It seems already implied, and it's usually better to keep such messages brief and positive. So 'we are unfit' might be reworded. I think our message is adequately conveyed by "This situation requires professional help, not an interpersonal skills solution - We're sorry that you're struggling with this, but this is something that you should take to a professional (be that a psychologist, doctor or lawyer)." – English Student Oct 15 '17 at 0:07
  • Actually I tend to agree with @EnglishStudent the last sentence is a little redundant/unnecessary. – apaul Oct 15 '17 at 0:23
  • I don't think your message meets point 1. – Catija Oct 15 '17 at 3:13
  • @Catija, any suggestions? I was going for this with the 'doesn't need an interpersonal skills solution' part of the message, I think it compares to 'Doesn't seem to need a lifehack'. – Tinkeringbell Oct 15 '17 at 10:29
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    Those are the close reason names. The first non-bold sentence is what you're missing. Note that point one is a positive statement. Both of those are negative. "IPS is a site for....". Using "does not" is negative. :) – Catija Oct 15 '17 at 16:03
  • That's why I suggested this close-message in my question: "The problem described in this question needs professional help which is outside/beyond the scope of this website." Outside/ beyond the scope of this website is not necessarily a negative statement. I would consider it a neutral statement of fact. Use either 'outside' or 'beyond.' We could include a link to the 'help' section for more details on what is on topic here. Meanwhile we have already received another question that might 'need professional help': interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/5398/… – English Student Oct 15 '17 at 19:01
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    I really don't like "We're sorry that you're struggling with this, but". That but pretty much negates the whole statement of sympathy. Maybe reword to something like "We want you to get help for this, and a professional is the best hope for that"? I appreciate the fact that you've made this a general "needs professional help" statement without specifying what kind of professional. Also, I think the advice you cite to start with an affirmative statement of what the site does do makes sense, so it would be nice to incorporate something along those lines as the first sentence. – 1006a Oct 15 '17 at 19:29
  • Also, great job laying out why a custom close reason is needed. – 1006a Oct 15 '17 at 19:29
  • @Catija I don't think Robert Cartaino's first point is essential (though if we can find some good wording that fits within the character allowance it would certainly not be a bad thing.) Law, health, parenting, and the religious sites all just say that X is off-topic and to seek help elsewhere. – curiousdannii Oct 16 '17 at 7:05
  • @curiousdannii If that's the case, quoting Robert is unnecessary because we aren't using his method. The only point being used is point 2. We have no action item (how to fix the question) and no explanation of what this site is. Also, both of the other examples link to guidance relative to the issue. – Catija Oct 16 '17 at 12:46
  • @Catija, I've edited this based on your feedback – Tinkeringbell Oct 17 '17 at 18:43
-1

My suggestion:

Interpersonal Skills is a community-run website where you can ask questions about addressing and handling situations between individuals. Questions involving the behavior of a person or persons that appear to involve specific mental health issues are off-topic. If you are concerned about an actual or potential medical or mental health issue, please seek the advice of a health care professional.

italics above - this is just my rough filler text. The actual scope/mission of IPS should be inserted here, but that is another topic.

I chose "mental health issues" because these seem to involve the majority of questions where professional assistance is advisable. Of course other areas of professional expertise could be handled similarly.

I would like to add the comment from @English Student because it adds a point written better than I could -

"This wording would make all questions in the autism and Asperger's tags off-topic..." __ not necessarily @apaul: I specifically looked at the definitions and found both autism and Asperger's being primarily described as 'neurodevelopmental' disorders (a different way of processing information, is a layperson's way of saying) which are not 'mental health issues' in the same way as schizophrenia, neurosis and depression.

However, in the final analysis we are not health care professionals, so we just need to use our best judgment in determining on a case by case basis if professional help seems to be advisable (by flagging, close voting or moderator intervention).
It is important that general guidance for users is defined in the Help Center, where we can better clarify what is considered on or off topic.

I would keep in mind that the kinds of questions where these issues come up are often very individualized (involving specific individuals and situations as opposed to asking about how to manage some situation in general).

As a side note, questions sometimes lack sufficient specific information (such as describing an individual using generalized terms like depression or anxiety) needed to write a qualified answer. Answers should not guess at what the OP is asking, so in the absence of sufficient information a question should be closed using "unclear what you are asking" or "needs more information" reasons.

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    +1 for a very clearly worded close-message, thank you @user3169! Best part of your answer: "because "mental health issues" is a broad topic, question content (what is being asked) needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis to determine if the best advice would be for the OP to seek professional help." – English Student Oct 14 '17 at 5:12
  • If you agree that we should "close first, reopen later" approach, do you think we need to include a line similar to "closed first for further review"? – Vylix Oct 14 '17 at 6:51
  • This wording would make all questions in the autism and Asperger's tags off-topic... – apaul Oct 14 '17 at 16:00
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    "This wording would make all questions in the autism and Asperger's tags off-topic..." __ not necessarily @apaul: I specifically looked at the definitions and found both autism and Asperger's being primarily described as 'neurodevelopmental' disorders (a different way of processing information, is a layperson's way of saying) which are not 'mental health issues' in the same way as schizophrenia, neurosis and depression. – English Student Oct 15 '17 at 0:15
  • @EnglishStudent Very true, but most people wouldn't recognize or understand the distinction. – apaul Oct 15 '17 at 0:16
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    We could make the distinction very clear to users by a variety of means, including links to specific meta posts, and it would be a useful task @apaul. If you think 'mental health issues' is confusing or misleading then that type of term need not be used in the 'needs professional help' custom close reason, especially since professional help may be of various types and certainly not only for a mental health issue. – English Student Oct 15 '17 at 0:20
  • @EnglishStudent But to be clear we should not define medical/mental health conditions of any kind. Users can do that kind of research on their own, and IPS is not intended to provide that kind of information. – user3169 Oct 15 '17 at 5:54
  • @Catija OK, I changed it. – user3169 Oct 15 '17 at 5:57
  • You are right in general @user3169 but autistic persons have a 'different' approach and interpretation concerning social/interpersonal interactions, and we get a significant number of related questions here. Yet this is not 'mental illness' as in schizophrenia, phobias and depression. The need to differentiate the definition of autism spectrum disorders from 'mental health issues' is due to possible confusion in the minds of members leading to debates in meta posts like these: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1897/… – English Student Oct 15 '17 at 7:53
  • (contd.) I appreciate the edits you have made to update your answer, especially the re-worded close-message. Yes, we don't need to define medical/mental health conditions of any kind except to clarify autism as defined different to mental disorders for the purposes of this close-reason. To be very specific,we need to clearly differentiate the definition of autism spectrum disorders from 'mental health issues' to ensure that questions relating to perceptional or interactional interpersonal issues in autism, which is on-topic here, do not get close-voted as 'needs professional help' @user3169. – English Student Oct 15 '17 at 8:12
  • What's in a word? Explanation for moderator's correcting your term: "People who say "this is not a forum" are simply urging users to avoid the patterns that cause traditional forums to fail. -- Robert Cartaino" The whole excellent answer can be read here on a very pertinent meta question with many relevant answers: meta.stackexchange.com/a/92115/362639 – English Student Oct 15 '17 at 8:25
  • @EnglishStudent I understand and agree with the distinction between various developmental and other kinds of mental health conditions, but the bottom line is that such determinations are outside the scope of this site, beyond how they might shape the answer to an interpersonal issue. Meaning that the focus of the question (and answers) needs to be the interpersonal issue, not the background health information. – user3169 Oct 15 '17 at 18:26
  • Maybe I didn't make myself clear enough @user3169. I didn't recommend making the difference clear in the answer itself, or even raising the matter under the question. But autism is a tag on IPS.SE and interpersonal questions related to autistic interpretation of interactions is on-topic here. If instances of confusing autism with mental health (and especially close-voting such a Q for 'needs professional help') occur then we might consider to create a separate linkable meta post as a resource to explain the difference clearly for the benefit of all members. I await feedback from experts. – English Student Oct 15 '17 at 18:32
  • @EnglishStudent I would hold off on creating a separate meta post about autism until a question is closed in error. – apaul Oct 15 '17 at 19:12
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    I like the direction the first sentence is heading: a statement of what we can handle. I especially like the phrase "community-run", since that gets across the gist of our credentials. I think the rest of the statement could be more aimed at questions (rather than conditions) that require some kind of professional input. I would leave the type of profession vague, so the same custom close reason could be used for "needs a lawyer" or "needs an accountant" etc. as well as "needs a psychiatrist" or "needs a social worker" and the like. – 1006a Oct 15 '17 at 19:21

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