Dealing with Suicide Threats in an Online Community

About a year ago, one of the community members in the Get Satisfaction community posted a question on how to handle a community post where one of his users threatened suicide. To this day, I still remember the sick feeling in my stomach as I worked with my boss and legal team to find a way to help him.

With today's tragic passing of well-loved comedian Robin Williams, I felt compelled to bring this topic back up.

Depression is a very real disease. I've struggled with it. I have family members who struggle with it. And I know many people lose their fight to it on a daily basis. If you don't yet have a plan for handling a post where a user threatens suicide, or other bodily harm, now is a great time to put one together.

Work with your legal team to help with crafting a post that can be used in the event a user threatens personal harm. Strive for a post that encourages the user to reach out to a suicide hotline, or other form of professional help. Don't offer judgement or advice — just resources. 

Additionally, determine how to provide this information. Depending on your community platform's capabilities, you may need to address the public thread, or you may think it's more appropriate to message the user privately. If you do address the public thread, please CLOSE the thread to additional comments and try to move it away from the highly trafficked areas of the community. Additional attention from other community members can end up doing more harm than good. You and your team may also want to discuss whether or not to reach out to local law enforcement and provide information about the user who is threatening harm.

Once you have all of this documented, include it with the rest of your team's emergency response and escalation plans. 

If this situation happens to you, and you don't have a plan in place, urgently and immediately reach out to your legal team for help. This isn't the time to send an email with an "urgent" flag on it, but rather, it's the time to get up from your desk and walk over to them. Keep in mind, these situations are not the time to evaluate whether the user is serious about their claims. For the user in question, and all those who may have seen the post, the best course of action is to quickly encourage the user reach out to a professional for help.

Here is something we put together for our customer in late 2013, referencing this blog post.

If you feel you may harm yourself please REACH OUT. There are people who care about your life, and can help. Depending on where in you're located, here are a few free and confidential helplines that you can call:.

US: 1-800-273-TALK

US LGBTQ Youth (the Trevor Project): 1-866-488-7386

US Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1)

Canada: 1-800-SUICIDE OR help lines and centers by province OR 911

International: Befrienders Worldwide

Australia: 13-11-14 (lifeline) or 1-800-55-1800 (kids help line for 5-25 yrs old)

Almost every country has a similar suicide prevention number. Just Google "suicide help line" and your country. No matter what you're going through, you are not alone. Please reach out to someone.

Additionally, Patrick O'Keefe of has a very excellent blog post on the very subject, and includes some great templates.

Depression kills. Oftentimes, those with the sunniest of exteriors are fighting the darkest of demons. We never know each other's internal battles. It's not our responsibility to fix the underlying problems, but it is our responsibility to provide resources should someone choose to come to us for help.

To Mr. Williams — thank you for the laughs and comfort. We will all miss you terribly.

Picture found on  Twitter .

Picture found on Twitter.

Caty Kobe