Last night on Mi Yodeya, someone posted a question that was basically a suicide note, along with the question of what Judaism thought about suicide. The question was put on hold very quickly, and several supportive comments were posted ("You've listed Los Angeles as your location. A local program that could probably offer a great deal of help is....").

Someone started a conversation in chat, which is how I discovered this question, asking about SE's official policy for posts with serious mentions of suicide or self-harm. I answered with a link to this SoftwareEngineering.meta question, and a CommunityBuilding.SE question, which was a HNQ question at some point, which was how I found out about the SoftwareEngineering.meta question (I do not have an account on programmers).
In any event, it turns out that our wise moderators had already contacted a community manager on that one, though we didn't find that out until later.

After searching MSE for an official position, I found that we do not yet have one. Hopefully this won't come up so often, but I feel that this should be made public here (significantly more public than SoftwareEngineering.meta) so that people will know what to do when this comes up.

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    Related: Stack Overflow Inc.'s 2020 second quarter community roadmap - June 2020, row "Engage with community": "Suicide prevention". In the main text: "Sometimes our moderators will come across content by a user where something is shared that indicates that the user may be considering taking their own life. As you can imagine, these are some of the hardest moments for anyone to encounter." Apr 10, 2020 at 15:04
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    Does this answer your question? What are our policies regarding self-harm and suicide? Oct 12, 2021 at 18:04
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    @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica That is the official policy for moderators. None of it applies to regular users, and in fact it doesn't outline a single action a non-moderator can take, such as flagging (and where the answer does begin to touch on something a non-moderator can do, it references back to one of the answers here).
    – Laurel
    Oct 12, 2021 at 23:51

2 Answers 2


Scroll down for updated, ready-to-use comments.

I think Shog9's answer to the Meta Software Engineering question is good enough:

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. Moderators can and usually should use the “contact community team” option in the “mod → actions” menu on the user’s profile page.


Ready-to-use (international)

It sounds like you’re going through a 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 [a suicide hotline](http://suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html). People are on call there to talk to people struggling with the same kind of issues you are, regardless of location. If calling is not good, you can [chat with them live online](http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx). It might not help, but what’s the harm?

Ready-to-use (US)

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](http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/). 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 is not good, they can [chat with you live online](http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx). It might not help, but what’s the harm?

Inspiring examples

Here's two other comments (from the Mi Yodeya question) that can serve as templates for other comments:

Rochel please please take this opportunity to speak with someone you trust about these issues. We do not know you so cant help you personally but I believe with my entire heart that you have many wonderful things to add to this world. I strongly encourage you to find someone to talk these issues through with. It can be incredibly helpful. May God grant you much success and happiness – Double AA ♦


Rochel bas Esther, tears are literally flowing from my eyes right now at the thought that you are in such pain, and that you need help so badly that you are turning to a forum as ill-equipped as this one is to help you. Please get in touch with someone who can really help. You've listed Los Angeles as your location. A local program that could probably offer a great deal of help is the Aleinu Family Resource Center of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. There's another program that has a 24-hour hotline. – Isaac Moses

  • The close reason template is a few characters too long. It would be much better if it could be shortened to actually work.
    – StrongBad
    Dec 29, 2016 at 13:43
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    @StrongBad I didn't write that part of the answer, but I think that message was designed for the comment space. If you want to edit the answer to include a template that could fit the close reason, go for it.
    – MTL
    Dec 29, 2016 at 16:23
  • @StrongBad I see what you did, there, but your edit is within the blockquote, which is a direct quote from Shog's post on another site. Perhaps your updated version of the template should be moved outside of that blockquote?
    – MTL
    Dec 29, 2016 at 22:51
  • @Shog9 What are your thoughts about the blockquote, above? It is a quote from you, after all.
    – MTL
    Dec 29, 2016 at 22:52
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    I don't see any reason to have a close reason for this. Leave a comment and flag for deletion or close as off-topic. If it is so common that a close reason becomes expedient, there may be a deeper issue somewhere.
    – Shog9
    Dec 29, 2016 at 22:58
  • @Shog9 I thought your original intention was for a comment, but I think that Strong Bad was considering a custom close reason under "Off Topic."
    – MTL
    Dec 29, 2016 at 23:00
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    Also, @StrongBad, try to avoid using "we" unless you're actually referring to a specific group of which you are a member; it can come off as a bit impersonal or aggrandizing. We know what you mean, but someone who is already confused and lost may not.
    – Shog9
    Dec 29, 2016 at 23:04
  • @Shog9 original had I'd like to help, but we're... which is an odd mix. I thought having it be a custom OT close reason was better than a comment since it would be a little more prominent.
    – StrongBad
    Dec 30, 2016 at 3:02
  • Yeah, could stand to be tweaked @StrongBad. I don't know that it's worth adding a standard close reason given the relative rarity of posts where this is necessary though.
    – Shog9
    Dec 30, 2016 at 16:48
  • Thanks for the edit, @wrz. You missed some formatting from Shog's answer (I did the same thing in the first version of this answer), so I've put that back in. Also, code formatting is (IMO) annoying to read and not so easy to copy, so I've made the blockquoted versions of the comments more easily copyable.
    – MTL
    Apr 16, 2017 at 15:13
  • @Shokhet: At least in my browser, block quotes are extremely easy to copy: You move the mouse to the beginning, click, move a bit down, and release. And that was the entire purpose of the blockquotes: to be easy to copy. They were not intended for reading.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 16, 2017 at 15:20
  • @Wrzlprmft Huh. In my browser, the sections you had labeled for copying were code format, with the entire comment on one line, with a reeeeally long scroll bar going off to the right. (And anyway, why not have just one comment, both for reading and copying?)
    – MTL
    Apr 16, 2017 at 15:22
  • @Shokhet: In my browser, the sections you had labeled for copying were code format, with the entire comment on one line, with a reeeeally long scroll bar going off to the right. – same for me. Nonetheless, it’s easy to copy. — And anyway, why not have just one comment, both for reading and copying? – because I do not want to read link syntax. (Either way, these are minor issues. Your variant is okay to use as well.)
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 16, 2017 at 15:24
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    Is the advice of locking/deleting still current? Or is that just for cases where problematic comments are coming in from either the OP or other users?
    – Lilienthal
    Dec 25, 2017 at 20:35
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    Uh...I'm not sure, @Lilienthal. I'd guess so (not sure what might have changed that?)...but maybe I'll see if Shog9 is in Tavern on the Meta, and ask him. This is essentially his answer, anyway.
    – MTL
    Dec 26, 2017 at 2:12

I'll give my advice from a suicidal person's perspective. (I don't know much about self-harm, but I guess there's a lot of overlap.)

TL;DR: The Joiner model of suicide has three necessary and sufficient conditions for making suicide attempts:

  1. burdensomeness, e.g. "people would be better off without me",
  2. alienation, e.g. "nobody would even care if I died", and
  3. desensitization, e.g. they've suffered for an extended period of time; they now prefer to cause their own death over suffering.

Stack Exchange has very little impact on any of these, but if you treat them like a normal human being, and simply listen to them, you can slightly reduce (1) and (2). And please, do NOT copy/paste canned comments about suicide hotlines, you'll make (1) and (2) slightly worse.

Regardless of anything else: (a) you are not responsible for someone else's suicide, and (b) you're not capable of long-term preventing someone suiciding. So don't be afraid to be yourself.

Some basics....

The Joiner model of suicide has three necessary and sufficient conditions for suicide attempts:

  1. Perceived burdensomeness. Examples:

    I am thus a burden to her and think that it would be best to relieve her of my presence.

    I just feel like i’m a burden to everyone around me – sometimes i think if i wasn’t here anymore, it would make everyones lives that bit easier.
    Suicide Project

  2. Low belonging/Social alienation. Examples:

    I always used to wish for friends and have people to interact with, but now I feel like loneliness is better for me. I'll have fewer people to disappoint when I finally ctb.
    Sanctioned Suicide; (note: ctb = "catch the bus", slang for suicide)

    Nobody really cares about me and I dont think they would give a flying fuck if I'd die.
    Sanctioned Suicide

  3. Acquired ability to enact lethal self-injury. This is succinctly described as desensitization to the idea of killing oneself.

    The few who can have developed a fearlessness of pain, injury, and death, which, according to the theory, they acquire through a process of repeatedly experiencing painful and otherwise provocative events.
    The Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior: Current Empirical Status (emphasis mine)

So no matter what you say or do, you're incapable of causing or preventing suicide on Stack Exchange (barring e.g. extreme cyberbullying): you're not going to affect these things in any major way. So relax, and be yourself: act as you normally do. Be honest. Be a human being. If you act abnormally, you're going to exacerbate the first two feelings.

I know no one wants to be the one that "pushes someone over the edge", but it's not your fault if that happens. These three conditions did not arise because of what any single person has said on Stack Exchange.

Asking “why,” she explains, assumes that there was a single cause, when in reality, people die by suicide for complicated reasons.
WebMD (emphasis mine)

The advice given over and over is to simply listen without judgement. It's the same advice again and again: listen, listen, listen, listen, listen, listen.

The most important thing is to listen to what they say to let them know you care. ... It is also important to avoid making judgements about how they are thinking and behaving.
Suicide, HSE.ie

What not to do...

TL;DR: Do not copy/paste. Do not suggest a suicide hotline. Don't lie. Don't treat them like a baby. Don't try a quick-fix.

Suicidal people are encouraged to be open, and talk about their suicidality---it helps. But the instant you do, people begin acting very weird. Anyway, here's my tips:

  • Do not copy/paste from a script. It feels incredibly cold to get a copy/paste message when you're contemplating suicide. I realize there's a +95-score answer that basically says "copy/paste this", but I'm going to flatly contradict this: do not copy/paste!

    1. You can assume that 100 people have previously copy/pasted an equivalent "answering machine" message. You're sending them spam, not help.

    2. Do you remember how people felt about this canned response? Now imagine receiving a canned response over and over again, every time you try to open up about suicide. On top of the coldness, it inhibits suicidal people from reaching out; they'll just anticipate getting the same copy/paste response.

    3. When I receive canned responses again and again, I go from "maybe there's something I haven't thought of" to "I guess there's nothing left to discuss", which is when suicide becomes actionable.

  • Do NOT suggest calling suicide hotlines. This is not about helping others; this is an almost-zero-effort way of making yourself feel good. There's multiple points here:

    1. We know!: Suicidal people go to Google and search for how to kill myself, and they will have to wade through hundreds of these numbers and websites to actually reach sites with usable information. Rest assured, suicidal people are not ignorant of these phone numbers.

    2. Unvetted: People are less selective with suicide hotline numbers than they are for pizza delivery. It's insulting when people copy/paste the first number they Googled; you might as well write let me Google that for you.

    3. They can totally mess up your life: involuntary commitment, having the cops called on you, child custody, permanent medical records, losing your job/career, getting hung up on, massive medical bills, hurting your friends/family, suicide watch lists. And in some countries, suicide is a crime.

      There's the pages and pages of horror stories of people who call these numbers on Reddit. E.g.:

      I've called before, I'm going to be honest, and I was treated like a child. They just try to weed out your information on the sly to "save" you and treat the call like an improv class. "Yes, I understand", "Yes, that must be hard". There is no real help provided and they don't actually sit and talk to you when you need someone. ...
      Reddit r/UnpopularOpinion

      See also this November 2019 survey on the pro-choice site Sanctioned Suicide:

      If you have ever called a suicide hotline what was the result?

      • 56.7% negative;
      • 37.5% neutral;
      • 5.8% positive.
    4. Why don't you call them?: If you see someone talking about suicide online and you genuinely (but likely mistakenly) believe a suicide hotline would help: you call it first! You can ask for advice for how to help this suicidal person, and you can vet the hotline too.

      And if you find yourself thinking ...but that phone call could totally mess up my life, you're probably right. And hopefully you now understand why you shouldn't suggest it to others.

  • Don't lie. Why do people think it's okay to lie to suicidal people?

    1. Don't say "it gets better". People's deceased loved ones stay deceased; memories of childhood abuse do not "get better"; amputated limbs don't grow back; memories of being arrested don't just vanish; you will not be wealthy throughout your life; your ex-partner will remain your ex-partner; LGBTQ+ people will continue being mistreated simply for existing; you will not forget those careless words you said that hurt someone; you will not get younger; your incurable illness will remain incurable; you are not rich enough for a lawsuit and have to accept injustice; you will continue to be discriminated against for your religion or lack thereof; and you will eventually die regardless of how much you suffer. (And in about 100 years time, whether you kill yourself or not, you will be totally forgotten.)

      Please, never make promises to our vulnerable OPs that you personally can't keep. This means not saying "it gets better" or guaranteeing any outcomes!
      Reddit r/SuicideWatch

    • Of (a) "it gets better", (b) "it stays much the same", or (c) "it gets even worse", the least likely to occur is (a). Since these things tend to accumulate over time, (c) is the most likely. Also, let's think about the logic here...

      1. it gets better => don't kill yourself
      2. it doesn't get better => ???
    1. People who lie lead to mistrust of the people who don't lie. They'll think people say certain things because it's socially required, not because they actually mean it.
  • Do not infantilize them. People start treating you like a baby, not as an adult human who is capable of independent thought and decision making.

    Studies have shown that an individual, when infantilized, is overwhelmingly likely to feel disrespected.

  • Do not attempt a quick fix. It's patronizing having people who are ignorant of 99%+ of your life spruiking an off-the-top-of-their-head solution to all your problems, as if you've been incapable of thinking of 5-minute solution all this time. The suicidal person understands their own situation better than you do. It's even worse when they get angry at you for not listening to their solution.

    Don’t try to fix their problems. Listen with empathy and without judgement. Beyond Blue

  • Don't disbelieve them. It's pretty standard to declare suicidal people as "just want attention" or something.

    ...in at least 80 percent of completed suicides, the people provide verbal or behavioral clues that indicate clearly their lethal intentions.
    Understanding Suicide - Common Elements

  • Don't say "suicide is selfish", etc. Anything like this just adds more guilt. And often the opposite is true: people kill themselves in the belief that it will give their loved ones a better life.

  • Don't bring God into it. Or at least, you should be pretty sure that this topic is welcome before doing so. Sanctioned Suicide's survey lists 78% atheists.

    Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts...
    Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt

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    Thank you for sharing this. It's very helpful for people to see how their well-intentioned actions can sometimes be detrimental, and it's interesting to see new surveys showing that the perceived helpfulness of these hotlines has swayed in the negative direction. I've recently written about this issue in regards to us moving away from the knee-jerk reaction of reaching out to every person just to send a canned message they've already seen, but obviously my post is based on more outdated information regarding effectiveness.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Dec 18, 2019 at 5:20
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    Wow, there is a fair amount of overlap between these two posts. Dec 18, 2019 at 5:23
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    This is by far the most thoughtful and actionable set of guidelines about how to interact with a suicidal person that I've ever read. Apr 20 at 1:17
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    One thing I might add: Don't try to cheer them up with your favorite trick to get a smile. While we all have things we go to or think of to make us feel better when we're down, it can easily backfire for someone who is at the lowest point in their life. Humor, or even cheerful imagery, can make a suicidal person feel a wave of sadness or hopelessness when they see something that they believe should make them happy, but doesn't. It can actually be worse than nothing. You have to know a person well before you know what is actually likely to make them smile. Apr 20 at 1:19

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