I really wanted to avoid posting this on meta and avoid drawing too much attention to it, but I've flagged the question in question yesterday and no action was taken. I checked the moderation rules; they say to flag anything that seems weird, exceptional or in any way deserving moderator attention, and this definitely seemed like it to me.

In this post, an extremely demoralized PhD student is asking for advice on how to retain his motivation and continue. The question is not particularly good but I sympathised with the situation so I followed it. The OP didn't seem particularly receptive to advice given, and mentioning additional difficulties and hardships in comments, but that is their own choice.

Through comments he expressed he is thinking of changing labs and Universities again (which would be his second switch), and various advice popped up about how switching for the second time might be even harder than the first time and possibly not the best idea. Then the OP responded by saying that is a really bad break, he saw that as his only choice and is now contemplating suicide.

To me, that was extremely alarming. Alarming, for one, out of the concern about the OP, his health and his well-being. Distressing for me to witness it. But, even moving away from the personal level (of just seeing somebody threatening with suicide), the result for Academia.SE is that we have a question about how to get out of a demoralizing PhD situation, ending on the note that (as a result of the advice given on this platform), the OP is now contemplating suicide. Surely this is not the message we want to send: that such a demoralizing situation has no solution and leads to something as drastic as that.

It's been more than 24 hours now, and I do think something should be done about that comment standing there. The OP is probably in a delicate state, so sending a message we do not care about what he has to say and deleting it might not be the right approach, and I don't know what is, so I am asking here:

Especially seeing that we get a lot of questions from people in very stressful, demoralizing and bad situations, should we, and how should we as a community, react when an OP shares that they are contemplating harming themselves?

1 Answer 1


These are always difficult situations and as mods we always need users to make us aware of things that we might miss. A while back mods were given a new tool that allows us to contact the stack exchange team (CMs) with a stock reason of a suicidal user. I believe that this supersedes the past suggestions given in What's the official SE response to serious mentions of suicide or self-harm in posts? which can be summarized as (1) close with an appropriate message, (2) flag for mod attention, (3) use "contact us" to call in the CMs. As a user, you should definitely flag and maybe even us "contact us" link at the bottom of every page. As for closing, I don't know. My assumption is that the CMs deal with these things quickly and if they thought closing the question was useful, they would.

After talking to a CM, when you flag the question/comment/answer there is no reason not leave a comment like:

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?

In terms of this specific question, as with many mod things, we are aware of it and handling it quietly and privately.

  • 7
    Thank you for saying you are aware of it and are handling it privately, it really puts my mind at ease. Since I flagged that comment and couldn't see anything happening, I just grew very worried. Could you please clarify what you mean by "as a user you should definitely flag and maybe use contact us" - since I can't see a contact us button, and you said it was a tool given to the mods, how does this apply to what a regular user should do?
    – penelope
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 15:58
  • @penelope made a small edit. Every page has a "contact" link at the bottom left: help//chat//contact//mobile.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 16:02
  • Thank you for the clarification, and the comment is a great idea. Just... one last question. I've noticed the "contact" button now, but looking through the options, I assume as a regular user I would just use "other" as a reason in the contact form and describe the problem?
    – penelope
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 16:29
  • @penelope exactly users do not get a suicide choice, but mods do (well technically it is a different mechanism). The idea is to make sure people are aware. I think we let our users down by not commenting earlier and being more transparent in what was happening.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 16:37
  • It's not an easy situation to handle. I keep thinking that leaving a comment such as the one you posted should have been something I taught of myself, and something I could have done straight away when I spotted it. Instead I just got terrified and panicked - I think it took me a couple of hours before I even flagged it.
    – penelope
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 17:07
  • 3
    Strongbad, maybe it would be better to substitute this message with the international version since the person is in Europe per one of the comments. Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 17:22
  • @MassimoOrtolano yes that would be better. I cannot do it now, but will do it later if someone else doesn't get to it first.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 17:47
  • One of the reasons I was initially weary of posting it on Meta is that I wasn't sure how comfortable it would be for the OP to attract lots of attention, but now this post is showing up as a "hot meta post". Do you think this is a valid concern, and that something, if anything should be done?
    – penelope
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 17:50
  • 1
    Strongbad, I've just reported the comment (slightly adapted) about the international hotline. Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 18:50
  • 15
    See this Reddit r/SuicideWatch post to get an idea of what it's actually like calling these numbers (they often make things worse). In response to "but what's the harm?" (a) involuntary admission [i.e., being locked up], (b) suicidality becoming a permanent part of one's medical history (which interferes with child custody, employment, medical treatment, residency, etc.), and (c) having a random person patronizingly trying to "quick fix" intricate and highly personal problems in someone's life. Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 12:45
  • 13
    @RebeccaJ.Stones: Perhaps you should bring this up as an answer to the above Meta.SE post. Particularly if there is some other approach that you think is better, and if there's evidence to support it. Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 19:14
  • 2
    @RebeccaJ.Stones I asked this question to find a solution - since I really didn't know how to act or react in a situation like that. My initial reaction (which I am not particularly proud of) - was to flag the post, and then slowly stew in my own increasing panic as the time passed and I couldn't observe anything happening. I don't know how to deal with such situation beyond a general understanding that quietly not doing anything is probably not great. I think it is very important how we handle these type of situations - so if you have any advice for us, I think we would all love to read it.
    – penelope
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 18:27
  • 1
    There are anonymous options for help lines. It depends on the country, but even when your country does not have such an anonymous line, there are offers online, which can be used anonymously.
    – allo
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 8:19

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