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There was recently an incident where a user entered a chat room I was in and made remarks that indicated that they might be suicidal. Obviously, we moderators are usually not at all capable of handling such an issue, and if the person had displayed the behavior instead in posts on one of the sites I moderate, I would have notified the Community Team via a handy-dandy tool on the user's profile page. This tool was built so mods wouldn't have to ping CMs in chat about issues that required employees to handle.

Unfortunately, a tool like that - which sends a ticket to the team's queue, which is then seen and hopefully processed - doesn't exist for a user's chat profile. Moreover, as the person is not active on any site I moderate, I couldn't use the contact tool I described above on-site, and I had to resort to pinging CMs in chat - not ideal, especially given the particular time. I had no guarantee anyone would see it, and chat pings are not high-priority compared to tickets.

Can mods have a button letting them send a ticket to the Community Team about delicate user-specific issues like this in chat - ideally from the user's chat profile, or even from a specific message. It would make it easier for CMs to deal with something like a suicidal user - which is really the scenario I'm focusing on - and could leave a record of the incident, which would be helpful if the user displayed the same behavior in the future (as of now, all I would be able to do is manually annotate their chat profile).

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    Even though the title says suicidal users, I think having a way to contact the community team from either a chat user profile or a chat message (and easily send them a link to the relevant chat transcript) is important for a number of reasons. If we can do it from site profiles, we should be able to do it from chat profiles, too. – Thomas Owens Oct 2 at 14:14
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    Wouldn't an incident like that justify a CM ping? – user102937 Oct 2 at 14:14
  • In essence, they'd be extending an existing feature to chat so moderators from all site can use it, correct? – Mast Oct 2 at 14:15
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    @ThomasOwens Yup, that's basically what I'd been thinking of, but failed to fully elaborate on. – HDE 226868 Oct 2 at 14:16
  • @Mast Yes, that's the basic idea. – HDE 226868 Oct 2 at 14:16
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    @RobertHarvey I see this as more seamless with the chat experience And also putting something in whatever job tracking/ticketing system the other emails and forms go to rather than a chat ping. – Thomas Owens Oct 2 at 14:16
  • Could you explain "annotate their chat profile," please? – aparente001 Oct 2 at 15:06
  • @aparente001 Ah, thanks, I forgot it's not a well-known tool. I've linked to a meta discussion about it. – HDE 226868 Oct 2 at 15:16
  • @aparente001 putting an entry in the modlog on a users profile. Basicly a message from one mod to the other mods to indicate past experiences with the user in question – Luuklag Oct 2 at 15:17
  • @Luuklag - thank you. Can a moderator from a different site see the chat annotations too? // How would a SE participant go about reading their own chat annotation(s)? How would one request to have a certain chat annotation deleted or edited? – aparente001 Oct 2 at 15:18
  • I think none of those are possible – Luuklag Oct 2 at 20:52
  • @aparente001 All moderators can see a user's chat annotations, regardless of which site(s) they moderate - after all, mods have chat mod privileges across chat.stackexchange.com. It isn't possible for a non-mod to see their own chat annotations, though - and likewise for requesting deletion of annotations, as you can't see any annotation you might want deleted (plus, deleting records of mod activity is . . . not great.). – HDE 226868 Oct 2 at 20:54
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This may not be a very popular opinion, but I wouldn't recommend doing anything further in potential suicide cases, and don't think such a feature is worthwhile to implement if the sole focus is "I need to contact the CM team about suicidal behavior." Let me explain why before anyone freaks out.

There's nothing further we can do.

Obviously, we moderators are usually not at all capable of handling such an issue...

Neither are we - nobody here is. I'm usually the person that sees all the existing suicidal user contacts that come into support. Honestly, I close most of them without further action because a concerned user has already posted a comment with pretty much all the same exact information we would send them in an email. There's really no point in repeating ourselves - if they're gonna follow that advice, they'll follow it.

Suicide prevention hotlines aren't actually effective anyways.

There's no scientific evidence that supports the idea that suicide hotlines actually prevent or lower suicide rates. At worst, they do absolutely nothing to help a person. For most, they make the person feel better for a few weeks before they become suicidal again. They rarely solve issues, and most people handling those issues are just volunteers with minimal or no training that tend to forget to even ask whether the person is having suicidal thoughts right now.

The only truly appropriate remedy for suicidal thoughts is an intervention with that person, which requires knowing that person's identity and can't be done over the phone. Unfortunately, we don't have the information necessary. We can't forward things we don't have onto the proper authorities, and there just really isn't anything we can do about the situation.

Let's look at these messages at their real value: making us feel better.

A lot of us are selfish. Maybe we don't realize it, but we are. Nobody wants to feel like they were partly responsible for the death of another person. But doing nothing when we see someone acting in suicidal ways drives us crazy - there has to be something we can do. And sending a kind message or linking to a hotline is that something for most people. It makes us feel like we did something to try and resolve the problem and that there is no further responsibility on our part. Sometimes that small action gives us satisfaction more than it helps the suicidal person.

Let's be perfectly clear: Failure to notify someone does not in any way make you responsible for a person's death by suicide. Of course it's upsetting when it does happen, when that person was typing right in front of you, but we need to be able to accept that not everything around us is in our direct control.

Better plan of action.

If you feel so inclined to do something, surely leave one of the canned comments and hope it helps them. There's nothing wrong with doing that. While it may not fix the problem, at least keeping a person going for a few more weeks could potentially be a turning point for them.

If there's some other ultra-specific issue that needs to be addressed and they have no profile on a site you moderate, I don't personally see any benefit to building in additional features at chat versus just sending us a standard contact form submission. That sounds like taking a sledge hammer to a nail.

Past that, in my opinion, the "suicidal user" contact option is pointless, not in any way "required" as people seem to believe, doesn't result in any meaningful action, and should probably just be removed at some point - it's just creating unnecessary noise in the system. It's better replaced with just a copy of what we would normally send to a user (which truthfully isn't much more than the canned comments in that other post) as a canned moderator message that moderators can send straight to users themselves and not need staff assistance at all, if they believe that would be useful over just commenting.

I don't mean to sound unsympathetic to suicide concerns, but we have to remember that we're dealing with completely anonymous people on the Internet that we simply cannot help in the way they need. The "suicidal user" option was a stop-gap to make everyone feel better. "I'm forwarding this on to the staff because they can do something." But it's not true. We're just as helpless as you are and can't do anything more than a moderator or a regular user could do. And that feature isn't worth development effort to expand if only to cover this use case.

I know some of this is hard to read and I'm probably bursting a lot of bubbles, but I think everyone here needs a little insight into how much "good" they're doing around this issue, and that creating a bunch of tools with suicidal users in focus is not very productive in an environment where we know nothing about those users.

To summarize:

  • There's generally no reason to notify us of a suicidal user, especially if someone else has already provided advice to them on seeking help. We should just make our template message available as a moderator message.
  • We cannot do anything more than anyone else on the site can do.
  • Contacting us about suicidal users is mostly just noise that gets ignored because of those two above reasons, that we put up with because it makes people feel better.
  • Expanding the contact CM tool into chat would mostly be a lot of work with very little benefit. What made the CM contact system on-site so "easy" to implement was that we just piggy-backed the existing moderator contact system and tweaked it to be private between CMs and moderators. But that existing tooling doesn't exist in chat. We're talking about a mountain of work.

Posted as a scholar actively studying psychology and not as an official stance of the company.

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    This is super informative; thank you for posting it - especially during this particular week. – HDE 226868 Oct 3 at 19:05
  • Just one comment: we're dealing with completely anonymous people on the Internet... Well, SE.com has an email address. Which might sometimes be enough to turn an anonymous user into a very specific person. And that piece of information is not available to any other group, or is that a misconception on my end? – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 3 at 19:16
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    Thanks, this is a real detailed answer. In my experience, some of this may warrant mod training -- even if what you say is true, it tends to be a harrowing experience for moderators who encounter suicidal users in the role for the first time. A practical reality is, many mods aren't equipped to handle these cases with grace, especially when it's happening in a public place. I'm recalling a specific instance where many mods from TL jumped into a very visible chat where a user was recounting details of their rape; ultimately I stepped in and cleared the air quickly and with kindness for the 1/2 – Aza Oct 3 at 19:19
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    victim. That's not a knock on the other moderators, I just have more experience and exposure identifying what's needed in handling these cases. But in the moment, when a difficult topic comes up, we shouldn't have to rely on hoping someone with experience knows what to do. So I think, even though your answer is totally right, some training or explicit guidance could be helpful going forward. My comments are a little outside "notify a CM," though -- agree that's probably not necessary. 2/2 – Aza Oct 3 at 19:20
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    @GhostCat In my experience, about half of these come through for unregistered accounts where the email is unverified or made-up. We don't need to go around essentially swatting people because someone happened to use their email address. – animuson Oct 3 at 19:35
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    @Aza That's a great point, and I think there are plenty of employees that could benefit greatly from that training too (of which there is currently none for this particular situation). – animuson Oct 3 at 19:37
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    @animuson Could do! I'm sure it would at minimum help the team better manage the emotional health aspect after the fact. :) – Aza Oct 3 at 20:19
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    @Aza Off topic, but I just wanted to say thank you for your service as moderator. I found your resignation letter deeply touching. And your comments here tell me what a great loss your resignation is. I am actually a bit sad that "your" story seems to be more of a "side aspect" of what the community is now talking about all day long. SE.com firing a moderator is troubling, but a moderator feeling unwelcome in the community itself, at least me, I think this is a big challenge to each of us here, no matter what SE.com will do or not do in the future. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 4 at 7:28
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    Ah, thanks sincerely, @GhostCat. It's a refreshing thing hear, after the amount of vitriol today. It does feel a little like I was lost in the noise, but more people have seen my resignation than I ever thought would. The wildfire around Monica will come and go, but I'm still hopeful the culture can be improved. :) – Aza Oct 4 at 7:59
  • @Aza See meta.stackexchange.com/a/334096/285661 ... the flow of up and down votes that come in on my answer ... surprising, too. Well, at least to a certain bit. But I am also glad that questions like meta.stackexchange.com/questions/334107/… did pop up, focusing on the "okay, what can we do better from here on". – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 4 at 8:23
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    @GhostCat There's more than a bit of bitter irony here, to be sure. But that's how it is, with queerness and broad groups, I think. Queerness is hard, it's messy, it's not clean like a firing is. It's easier to be angry about what happened when you get it; less when there's an understanding gap to bridge. The second link has been a nice read, though very squabble-y. There's more work to be done, but... better, I hope, soon. – Aza Oct 4 at 8:36
  • "Contacting us about suicidal users is mostly just noise that gets ignored because of those two above reasons, that we put up with because it makes people feel better." - is this a retraction of "For any credible threat of bodily harm - whether targeted at the author themselves or someone else - use the contact us option"? – b a Oct 7 at 9:18

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