First of all, we should not relax our rules for these questions out of pity or fearing to fuel the crisis by our rejection. When we cannot reasonably answer a question, the asker being in a crisis won’t change that – it will only make the damage done by answers worse. For example, consider questions closed for depending on individual factors due to making life decisions for the asker: Answers to such questions (other than: “it depends”) are dangerous because they suggest that we (random people on the Internet) can make such a decision. This is exacerbated if the asker is in a mental crisis, because they may be particularly responsive to these suggestions and the stakes are even higher.
However, we should not bluntly reject the asker, but acknowledge their pain, explain why we cannot answer their question (if any), and guide them to getting help, be it on our site or elsewhere. One interaction on this site that I am most proud of is turning a mess of a question by a suicidal asker into one that could be reopened and got answers that probably actually helped the asker.
Here is a lists of points to follow with such a question:
Always flag for moderator attention. Even if no further action is required at the moment, this makes us moderators aware of the question so we can keep an eye on it and take swift action if necessary (e.g., when somebody posts a rude comment).
Try to salvage the question: Is there anything in the question that we can answer? Or is there any valid question that straightforwardly arises from the asker’s situation? If yes, edit the question to focus on this and explain your edit in a comment.
Otherwise, always flag or vote to close if necessary. If such questions are answered prematurely, it only makes it more difficult to sort out the mess. The earlier they are closed, the better.
Leave comments to help the asker:
- Show your compassion for their situation.
- Explain why their question is not answerable in its current state (or explain your edits). If you voted to close as a duplicate, explain that if the duplicate does not help, they should edit their question to explain why.
- Encourage them to seek professional help about their mental-health issues (unless they haven’t clearly indicated that they already did this). If the asker is suicidal, you can find some ready-to-use comments here.
Make an extra effort to guide the asker to salvage their question:
- Make it very clear which information is missing.
- Think very hard about alternative valid questions the asker may have about their situation and suggest them.
Follow the question so you can quickly respond to edits, potentially rude comments, etc. Remember that you can retract your close vote.
If you see such a question make it to the hot network questions, raise a flag so moderators can undo this according to our policy.