I am not a mental health expert. I am not qualified to diagnose people. If I was, I would never do it based on a short piece of text on a web-site.
But, because I am not, I can freely say: We occasionally get some posts here by people who appear to be mentally unwell. They need more than an empirical answer to their irrational question; they need proper help that we cannot provide.
In particular, I think, by the nature of this site, we attract people suffering (clinical) paranoia. (My inexpert guess is we get a disproportionate number of people on the spectrum too, but I suspect that leads to misunderstandings in comments, rather than a risk of self-harm.)
I think our responses are, sometimes, inappropriate for that situation. I think we, as a community, tend to treat others as rational human beings who are merely sorely misguided, and would happily change their ignorant minds if only we could get them to understand these! simple! facts! Such robust replies may not be appropriate ways of addressing, for example, delusions.
I wonder if we need a better understanding and practice for identifying, and responding, to potential mental health sufferers, in a way that is not destructive or risky, but at the same time, is not condescending, doesn't invoke stigma, doesn't harm robust discussion and doesn't get abused as an ad hominem attack to dismiss genuine claims.
We also need to understand that, neither the mods nor the general community are trained for this. We don't have a duty of care (IANAL, either!) and we cannot offer to help people through troubling times, but it seem unethical to simply ignore danger signals, and snub them.
That said, I feel rather ill-prepared to propose such a policy. Any suggestions?
I asked around, and here are some similar questions on other sites, that we can crib from:
Programmers.SE, with an answer from Stack Exchange's @Shog9.
Christianity.SE - likely to need some work to match our secular audience, but still useful.
Reddit Suicide Watch has some resources. In particular, their talking tips have some advice on what not to do that I may have been getting wrong until now - e.g. I have suggested they "should" consult a GP, rather than offering it as an option.
- I am not proposing we try to diagnose people, especially from their writing styles. I am not proposing to reject questions from people who are handling their illness.
- I am not proposing we "engage" with people - e.g. invite them into chat rooms to discuss their problems.
- I am not even proposing we take an heroic measures - e.g. trying to discover their identity, and report them to medical authorities.
- I understand the way we respond could possibly make things worse. But we already do respond. This post is about trying to make that response thoughtful rather than ill-considered.
- I anticipate this will be limited to having a template we use when closing the question, and a policy to delete certain types of comments and answers in those situations.
- We have never, to my knowledge, received a post that has suggested direct, imminent danger. However, a few times per year, we get people talking about having problems with their thoughts, and seeking advice. I don't want to get into specifics but some examples include: a someone with (self-described) depression worried about having a breakdown and asking whether particular self-treatment might work; someone with delusions about a celebrity supernaturally communicating with them who posted that they were desperate for an answer when their question was closed. These people are looking in the wrong place for help.