Suicide threats made in a forum

suicide threats forumHave you had a suicide threat on your forum from a member? Chances are you haven’t and most forums probably will not have to deal with it. Some forums will and do have to deal with these. What­ will do you do if a member of your forum makes comments about committing suicide? Are you prepared for it? As people are becoming more comfortable about expressing themselves online, they may become more common.

No matter what you do, they have to be taken seriously, even if in hindsight the comments were made in jest. It has to be dealt with and not ignored. Ignoring it is going to be just as bad a handling it badly.

What legal responsibilities to you have? Forum admins and staff are not licensed or registered counsellors or therapists and the law will vary from country to country (and state to state). Forums are also not the place to give therapy or counselling. Having said that, forum admins and staff probably still have some duty-of-care when this situation arises.

There was apparently a legal case involving AOL. It was mentioned here at The Admin Zone:

The story told to me by an ex-AOL employee: In the early days of AOL, AOL and one of its employees were sued when a user of AOL threatened suicide within a chatroom. The chatroom monitor tried to talk to them, tell them that their life had value, etc. The user followed through and committed suicide. The family sued and won. Apparently they were held liable for attempting to help the individual without a counselling license, without calling proper authorities and the result was death.

You need a policy and you need it before you get a suicide threat.

The thread with the suicide threat probably should be removed from public view. However,  some consider that your members may be a great source of support for those that need help, provided they do not mock the person making the threat. However, they are not licensed or registered counsellors or therapists either and this may be too risky. After moving the thread, send an email or private message to the member. Ask if they are all right and can you get them help. Can you provide them with the contact number of local support or crisis agencies, based on their IP address? Perhaps email this page to them to read.

Should you or your staff do more than that? Should you try to contact local emergency or support services and alert them, keeping in mind your forums privacy policy and that all you may have for them is nothing more than an  IP address (that could even be a via proxy). I would happily break the forums privacy policy if a life can be potentially saved.

Perhaps, you can keep a thread in your staff forum that is a compilation of numbers to the emergency, crisis or help centres. As your forum is worldwide, this is a big task.

Have a plan in place. Make sure your staff are aware of it. It will happen.

For a better understanding of suicide, see:
Wikipedia | Samaritans (UK) | Life Line (Australia) | American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (USA) | Psychlinks Suicide Forum

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