68

There was a (now deleted) question on MSO about freezing the meta room (10k link). The answer was that nasty things were said there, now the nastiness got cleared and the room was unfrozen when heads cooled down. All would be OK, but one detail came, that froze me. During refuting those unacceptable things said in chat (I believe they were like this as they are cleared now and I couldn't see them) the following statement came:

We as a company provide inclusive spaces. That goes for our offices, our sites, everything. Conversations about you coming to terms with people not fitting your understanding of what an identity means are for your therapist, not a chatroom we host :)

https://chat.stackoverflow.com/transcript/message/47441946#47441946

Now this really hurts. I had mentally ill people in my family. I know also about such people in my surrounding. I have prevented multiple suicide attempts. I know people who lost their loved ones due to suicides. Dismissing anyone with "talk with your therapist instead" in my opinion has nothing to do with being inclusive to those, that really need a therapist's help. And to those who stand behind them. And it didn't come from a random hater, but from a Stack Exchange employee.

I believe this is against current CoC, but still it comes so easy and seems that no one cares. Are there any plans to achieve more welcoming attitude in this aspect? Are some CoC changes needed?

UPDATE
I'm grateful for Tim's answer. My intention, however, was not to point on any particular user, but rather to ask for some reflection on how Welcome Wagon was done. I mean, it is almost one year and a half since it started and still such a stigmatized group is forgotten. What went wrong? Do we need any changes in policies to fix the situation?

  • 20
    Don't get me wrong, I think this message was out of line and I'm sure that Tim regrets sending it. But I do see the sentiment he's trying to convey. Seeing a therapist doesn't imply mental illness. Many of my friends like to see a therapist a few times a year as a "mental checkup," like a dentist or a doctor. They've told me they like to use these sessions to help bounce ideas off an impartial third party and try to get a better understanding of the humans and interactions in their life. All this to say, I don't think the intent behind the message is nearly as nefarious as you seem to think. – scohe001 Oct 2 '19 at 15:22
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    But, for what it's worth, I don't think a therapist is the right person to ask these kinds of questions. Making such a suggestion does seem to imply the person asking the question has some mental condition that needs to be "fixed." I don't know Tim's background in detail, nor did I see the original conversation, but I would think that most people are not qualified to make such a determination of mental fitness, unless they are a counselor themselves. – user102937 Oct 2 '19 at 15:54
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    In any case, there have been a lot of things that have been said in the heat of the moment over the past few days. The CM's are under intense pressure right now. Some latitude (and maybe a bit of grace and forgiveness) would seem to be in order. – user102937 Oct 2 '19 at 15:54
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    The key phrase here is "coming to terms with people not fitting your understanding of what an identity means". That sounds like it was directed towards someone who is not comfortable with the gender identity of trans people. Perhaps Tim's response was a little callous, (and disrespectful of those with deeper psychological issues); OTOH, a session or two with a psychotherapist might be helpful for that person. – PM 2Ring Oct 2 '19 at 16:24
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    FWIW, I've read the bulk of what's been posted here on meta.se & the various other meta sites relating to this fiasco. IMHO, most of the damage is due to communication failures, not actual malice. – PM 2Ring Oct 2 '19 at 16:36
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    I'm mentally ill myself and I do believe that SE could be more inclusive toward us. However, I do believe your question to be too narrow. I think your question could be greatly improved by focusing more on a general pattern (people calling racist/sexist/transphobic person as "mentally ill"), than pointing out to a specific instance (because specific instance can just be solve by saying "they shouldn't have done that"). – BelovedFool Oct 2 '19 at 20:36
99

It was insensitive of me to use that phrasing and I regret doing that. Hard stop.

I also suffer from chronic anxiety (for which I see a therapist) and I was under a huge amount of stress and pressure while that was going on. It wasn't my intention to mock anyone. I just had seeing a therapist in my head at the time.

I take responsibility for what I said, and I've learned something from it.

Thank you for pointing it out constructively.

  • 34
    Thank you for an honest, humble, straight answer. It goes a long way. – Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '19 at 16:01
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    This is a very good response, and I 100% believe you. However, I would also bet good money that if the shoe was on the other foot - a volunteer moderator said what you said in chat, a staff member complained that it hurt them as this question did, and the moderator gave a response like this which (I assume accidentally and in good faith?) managed to avoid the words "sorry" and "apology", the moderator would have been dismissed within minutes. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 16 '19 at 9:10
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    You're a good egg Tim and there's been pressure on everyone on the site. I'm pretty sure everyone who is active on the meta sites in these past weeks has said something they regret. We are all human. – user310756 Oct 16 '19 at 9:39
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    @user568458 not true. I've made my fair share of mistakes and an earnest apology makes a massive difference to people. It's the inability to reflect on our weaknesses or transgressions that makes us not so useful as moderators/ people. – user310756 Oct 16 '19 at 9:41
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    @user568458 That simply isn't true. I'm not going to pretend that wasn't a mess, but moderators being dismissed for any reason other than being absent and non-responsive when we reach out to them is extremely, extremely, extremely rare. We are re factually and demonstrably not in a habit of arbitrarily dismissing moderators for draconian reasons. We'll own that this one was very poorly done, but projecting it in the way that you have is simply unfair. – Tim Post Oct 16 '19 at 13:59
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    @TimPost, regarding your comment, I think it's too soon to make the extremely, extremely rare argument, since the arbitrary dismissal was the most recent example. So from the outside, we can't tell if it's going to be rare going forward, or if it's the new normal. We have only SE's word on that, and it's mixed with so many half-truths and evasiveness that it's hard to really know for sure. – Nate S. Oct 17 '19 at 20:25
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    @TimPost I've just been made aware of your comment here. Since you own that this was very poorly done and David admits that SE did not follow due process, why in the world won't you folks reverse it and start again with whatever you think needs to be addressed? Which is probably to understand a miscommunication somewhere along the way! Why do we have to do this with lawyers instead of by sitting down and working it out??? – Monica Cellio Nov 5 '19 at 17:02
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Are there any plans to achieve more welcoming attitude in this aspect?

The apparent answer is no. The company does not care. Since this question got posted there was:

  • Change to CoC focusing on pronouns usage. No notion about avoiding sanism.
  • I answered to FAQ post about CoC pointing to this question - got some upvotes to the question, nothing else happened.
  • A bizarre edit war about changing made up name from Nancy to Bob in a story told.
  • An edit to my question changing the subject from mental illness (I really mean things like F20.x, F25.x, F32.x from ICD-10) to gender identity.

It looks like stigmatization of mental illness is a non-issue during the current welcoming war. A bit sad.

  • 5
    Really sad, not a bit sad. – Shadow The Burning Wizard Oct 16 '19 at 8:58
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    This is the direct result of a CoC written as an XY Problem: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/66377/what-is-the-xy-problem. – dfhwze Oct 16 '19 at 9:04
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    @dfhwze that's a great analogy. The issue about pronouns is just at the surface of the real problems (gender inequality). – Sextus Empiricus Oct 16 '19 at 9:09
  • My edit to your question was from hastily misreading it. I apologize if it brought you any hurt. When the question was rolled back and I reread the question I backed off and upvoted. I can't agree more that mental health should be respected more than it is. #MentalHealthMatters – user384163 Oct 16 '19 at 10:59
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    I don't understand what the Nancy-Bob thing has to do with mental health? For Aza's answer, it's entirely possible it got missed (or CMs just deleted all comments indiscriminately because there were too many bad ones) - it's usually better to just suggest the edit directly instead of commenting and hoping someone else does it. ("When shouldn't I comment" - I've just suggested an edit now, fyi) – Em C Oct 16 '19 at 15:27
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    My suggested edit to Aza's answer was approved, so I've suggested an edit here as well to remove that as a point of contention - given that, and the volume of comments on that answer I don't think it's fair to assume it was deliberately being ignored. – Em C Oct 17 '19 at 3:43
  • @EmC Thank you for editing. I was afraid to change Aza's answer myself as this answer brought a lot of emotions and English is not my first language. I didn't want to twist what she meant. – Tadeusz Kopec Oct 17 '19 at 9:26
  • @AGirlHasNoName It's OK. I just used your edit as an example that generally people are not aware of problems with sanism. And maybe it's time for SE to reflect on this. – Tadeusz Kopec Oct 17 '19 at 9:30
25

Mental illness is serious. And the US’s under-investment in mental health care, and the stigma on getting treatment is literally killing people.

This is an issue I care deeply about.

First off, I’m truly sorry that you’ve had to deal with the frustration and often time sense of helplessness that comes from seeing people you care about struggle with mental illness, and suicide in particular. And while it’s tragic that it was needed, the fact that that you were able to support folks enough to prevent additional tragedies is something you can take pride in for your whole life.

Suicide kills roughly fifty thousand people a year just in the US, making it the 10th highest cause of death. But that understates the epidemic, since many of the ones above it tend to impact much older individuals. Suicide is the second highest cause of death for Americans between 15 and 24.

I’m close to certain that the subtext of Tim’s comment wasn’t the one you thought.

And I don’t blame you at all.

Tim’s comment runs the risk of being misread as suggesting he was being dismissive or insulting, but he definitely was not.

I do get what bothered you (and probably some others) about a comment like that. In a context where many people fail to take mental illness seriously, or where therapy / treatment are stigmatized, it’s easy to presume a speaker might be disrespectful, which might lead you to interpret the sub-text of Tim’s comment to be something like,

“If that’s what you think, you must be mentally ill.”

That would indeed be cruel and completely unacceptable here. But he didn’t say that, and I’m close to certain that he meant something very different.

For context, I worked with Tim for roughly 8 years, and know him pretty well. And I can tell you pretty much for sure that the other way to read that comment is what he intended:

“As someone who knows how helpful therapy can be to most people, I’d encourage anyone who’s struggling deeply with their own beliefs, or to relate to someone’s identity that you personally just can’t wrap their heads around to work with just the kind of professional who can actually help you examine yourself and at your own approach to see if there’s a new angle that might help you learn to understand and respect them better in he future.”

Was the phrasing sub-optimal since it can reasonably be mis-read? Totally. But was it dismissive, insulting, or disrespectful? Definitely not, at least not in the context in which it was being offered.

EDIT: @rjzii made an excellent point below that I want to incorporate here.

I believe that when we examine how our behavior affects individuals in marginalized view, we should focus on those individuals’ experiences more than our intent. For me, the easiest way to explain this is that since my intent is to be supportive and not hurtful, if someone’s experience isn’t aligned with whatever I thought my intent was, I should try to figure out how to adjust to fix that. In this instance, I think Tim (and I) are getting a new insight into how some people experience a comment like that, and it’s valuable input that should affect one’s future approach to things.

  • 2
    @rjzii, I’m with you 100% - if our goal is to treat others kindly and respectfully, we should adapt our behavior based on how it impacts others, regardless of what our intent was. And at the risk of over-speaking for another human, I’m confident that in the future, Tim will consider that comments like that one may be experienced in a way that’s hurtful, and adjust. My point is just that if you were sitting around with a bunch of people who you KNEW all had therapists, or valued them highly, a comment like his probably might very likely not be experienced as a micro aggression. – Jaydles Oct 2 '19 at 21:12
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    My personal feeling is that even "if you think that you must be mentally ill" is completely off-color from a community manager though. I'm much more inclined to think Tim was having a bad day. We all do. – Sklivvz Oct 2 '19 at 21:25
  • @Sklivvz your personal feeling is right - that’s what I was saying. But he didn’t say that. – Jaydles Oct 2 '19 at 21:30
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    I'm lost in the levels of indirection now :-) – Sklivvz Oct 2 '19 at 21:32
  • @rjzii it would not be the first time I was missing the point, so apologies if this is one of those times. I agree 100% that many people are not comfortable discussing it, and I believe it is still highly stigmatized in the US (which I tried to convey in my first paragraph- perhaps poorly). And I also agree that many (including me) would not be comfortable with a joke making light of mental illness. I didn’t think he was joking in that way, or really joking at all, but as you point out, the fact that some do is usually an indication that there’s potential improvement to make next time. – Jaydles Oct 2 '19 at 21:37
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    I do believe Tim meant no harm. But this is the most scaring in the whole situation. Almost one year and a half after SE stating that Stack Overflow is not a welcoming place, after long considerations how to change it, actions taken, after heated discussions whether saying "Person A said..." instead of "They said..." means dehumanizing suddenly such thing inadvertently pops out. Something went terribly wrong. – Tadeusz Kopec Oct 3 '19 at 9:33
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    Perhaps this should just serve as a reminder not to criticize the mote in another's eye when you have a beam in your own. (Nor suspend, fire, accuse of bigotry, etc.) – Ask About Monica Oct 4 '19 at 23:47
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    This guy Jay -- he knows me pretty well :) – Tim Post Oct 12 '19 at 5:14
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    @Jaydles can you please come back? We need help man lol – user310756 Oct 16 '19 at 10:08
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    @Sklivvz I was part of the chat when Tim said that and he just lost his patience. Honestly I think the CMs are under more pressure than anyone and we overlook that a lot of the time. I'm not saying it's ok. I am saying it's ok to make mistakes though, particularly when on the balance of things you are a positive and you're able to recognise your mistakes and admit them. We are all fallible. – user310756 Oct 16 '19 at 10:11
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    @YvetteColomb Sure, it's what I said. I consider Tim Post a personal friend and a good person, which is precisely why that comment felt so off-color coming from him. He taught me a thing or two about moderation over the years. – Sklivvz Oct 16 '19 at 11:34
18

Note: I'm not a native English speaker, so I might not see every connotation that a specific word has. In advance, forgive me for that.


I originally left a comment, but I think this could have some value as an answer, so here I go.

First, I have mental health issues myself: anxiety, depression and eating disorder (this last one isn't officially diagnosed yet).

I don't think focusing on a specific incident of ordinary sanism is really going to be productive because people could argue that this specific case wasn't sanism. Since this isn't the point, I will focus more on "general events".

I do believe that SE could be more welcoming toward people with mental health issues. So, in this answer, I will talk about a general pattern that I have noticed (not only in SE but everywhere) and that annoys me a lot.

Side note: I already talked about it in here, so you could check it out if you are curious.

The general pattern I have noticed

When someone is behaving badly. For example, when someone is being racist/sexist/homophobe/transphobe/a bigot/etc, people will tend to call them "insane, crazy, etc..." even if this person has no mental illness whatsoever!

I know a lot of (French) people who casually call Trump a "crazy man" (in the "mentally ill" sense). I also read newspapers who call mass-shooter "lunatic","nuts", etc...

This isn't true. Those people have no mental illness. Calling them mentally ill when they aren't is very detrimental to the mentally ill community. It's stigmatizing and makes people believe that someone mentally ill is necessarily dangerous.

You know what? I am mentally ill and the only person I'm likely to hurt is myself. In fact, I am very likely to hurt myself and very unlikely to hurt anyone else.

But, if people believe that my mental illness is a risk to them, then I won't talk to them about the issues I'm facing. I won't ask them for help when I need it and no-one will know I desperately need help. Stigmatizing people with mental illness is literally killing us. Because people with mental health issue end up killing themselves rather than facing the stigma of being mentally ill.

So please, unless you know someone is struggling with mental illness and you know that their behavior is due to this mental illness, don't call them "crazy" or "nuts". Don't use words that imply that they are mentally ill.


I feel like I'm unable to properly convey why this is so bad, so here is some reading for you to do:

Also related:

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    Thanks for being so candid, and so willing to help folks who want to learn more. It’s exactly the kind of dialogue we need. – Jaydles Oct 2 '19 at 21:57
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    This topic definitely deserves to be discussed as many people use words as crazy and nuts as a hyperbole (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbole) unaware of the potential offense that may cause to people in your situation. Finding a balance in expression is a challenge worthy of debate. – dfhwze Oct 16 '19 at 9:12
  • To improve myself: is using crazy to qualify an approach/idea also offensive to you? As example would "doing this in a loop is a crazy idea, you should aim at using a vector approach", I don't feel aiming at the person but I may be wrong, if that's the case I'll correct that in the future. – Tensibai Oct 16 '19 at 9:25
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    @Tensibai I guess it depends how you say it and what it implies? Saying "this idea is completely crazy, I love it!" sounds ok to me. But if, by saying that the idea is crazy, the person itself might be crazy or if you are using crazy to imply stupid/dumb then, IMO, that's not okay. Also, please note that this isn't my mother tongue and that judging implication in another language isn't always easy. – BelovedFool Oct 16 '19 at 9:41
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    Thank you for this and I will share something. I have a personality disorder and it's all but destroyed my life. My life is so hard, to get through eat day and stay balanced. It's exhausting. I told a psychiatrist how hard it was being me and he understood. It was kinda a relief to realise that I was genuinely struggling and that it was part of the condition and there was little I could do about it, just manage it as best I can. It makes it very hard to participate in life, as my emotions are on an almost constant rollercoaster and there's not particular medication that can stop it. – user310756 Oct 16 '19 at 10:14
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    @BelovedFool Ok, I think this match what I mean (english is not my native language neither). I'll take extra care making clear I'm judging the idea/method itself in the context, not the person writing it and avoid if unsure. Thanks :) – Tensibai Oct 16 '19 at 11:45
17

I have a diagnosed mental health condition. So do many of my family members and close friends.

My husband, brother, sister in law, cousin and two friends all commited suicide. It's something I take seriously.

I've had decades of therapy and adjusted medication over the years. I recently had an adjustment of medication and it made me more vulnerable.

The problem with mental illness is it has been stigmatised. I remember sitting in a neuroscience lecture and the professor said if someone has diabetes there's no issue in terms of shame, but if there's something wrong with your brain people get stigmatised (this is many years ago!). I'm speaking out, as the only way to do remove stigmas is to come clean. This does take a risk of people using it against me.

I've struggled on this site for nearly 8 years and it's embarrassed the life out of me that people can see my emotional instabilities that I desperately struggle with and try to manage in a public place. But I refuse to not participate in life. It has meant if I come on too strong I need to be reflective and apologise. I find it extremely hard to keep an even keel amidst pile on and over hot topics. The employees on this site and other moderators on Stack Overflow have been nothing but super supportive and tolerant with me. For that I am grateful and I know they've desperately tried to steer me in the right direction. It's hard I have an incurable condition which has limited treatments available. But I am self aware and strive very hard through all this to be the best me I can be.

One thing I do want to say to people, in all my endeavours on this site, please realise I also want the best of this site, for us the be the best community we can be and for me to be the best me I can be. I do not fit in with people well, so please feel free to honestly ask for clarification. I have a weird style of trying to get a point across that I know has offended people at times and for that I am sorry. I'm trying to navigate this crazy notion of interpersonal relationships and am open to honest feedback.

Take care all and hugs to people who struggle in painful silence. You are not alone.

  • 2
    I'm genuinely curious as to why this has downvotes. It seems an odd thing to downvote. Feel free to comment why, it might be helpful. – user310756 Oct 16 '19 at 10:53
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    There'll always be someone to find something bad or just a grudge, might be they find it doesn't answer the question, might be they lost their keys (again). Nowadays things are so blurry I'd favor freezing the vote system so everyone can express their feelings and all would hold the same weight (out of abusives to other of course, but that need a flag not a vote). I've less and less hope SE will realize how much bad they did instead of improving the network. – Tensibai Oct 16 '19 at 11:54
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    @Tensibai I actually think votes should be hidden from all of us. The site can then use them as data for their own good. – user310756 Oct 16 '19 at 11:58
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    Although I cannot explain the motives behind certain actions of certain people (I mean, at all) : Maybe the downvote was because the bottom-line questions ("Are there any plans to achieve more welcoming attitude in this aspect? Are some CoC changes needed?") are not addressed in this answer. – Marco13 Oct 16 '19 at 12:04
  • @Marco13 yes, and that I understand. It was just that feeling of vulnerability sharing that and getting downvotes lol. gotta laugh really – user310756 Oct 16 '19 at 12:07
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    @YvetteColomb: What about features that unlock at certain (negative) vote counts? "VLQ" flags, Delete votes, anwers fading...? – Cerbrus Oct 16 '19 at 12:20
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    Thank you for sharing this, @Yvette. It really helps me understand, instead of judge, some of your actions I have found perplexing in the past. I can only imagine how hard it is to come forward with this sort of admission, the stigma you mention is as awful as it is undeniably true. Thank you for helping me interpret what I see in a kinder light. Stay strong! – terdon Oct 16 '19 at 12:20
  • @Cerbrus yeh, still face them and order them, I dunno! I cannot solve it :) – user310756 Oct 16 '19 at 12:22
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    I don't vote or participate on meta very often, but this deserves my upvote. – JayCe Oct 16 '19 at 15:06
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    @YvetteColomb, thanks for sharing this. We recently interacted on another question, and I expressed some frustration with your position. I reacted not so much to your post, specifically, but to the general environment of people being "overly sensitive" to what seems to me to be "perceived issues". I still disagree with your position on that, and think some form of communicating the opposing viewpoint is important feedback, but the way I expressed it was no more tolerant of your position than I was complaining about yours. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Oct 16 '19 at 16:42
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    I don't think you want to be treated any differently, or in a special manner, because of what you're dealing with, but this answer points out that we can all benefit from being a little more empathetic with the needs of others, and a little less selfish about our own needs and how we express them. – fixer1234 Oct 16 '19 at 16:43
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    Thank you for your answer. Generally voting on such posts seems awkward to me. I don't understand downvotes here, I gave you an upvote to thank you. But I'd rather have no voting on such personal content. However this is how meta works. – Tadeusz Kopec Oct 17 '19 at 9:44

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