ThereIsHelp comes to profile pages, please help us tweak a feature
July 25, 2011 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Please help us finalize details of a ThereIsHelp indicator on user's profile pages who are interested in participating.

This has been a while in the planning stages and my apologies to folks who have given us advice on this over the months when we didn't seem to be moving forward on it. Here is what we are proposing and we'd like some feedback before implementation. This is not a "Should we do this?" request, it's more "We are doing something more or less like this, can you let us now what we might not be thinking of and/or help make the implementation better or more useful?" Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Background

In the wake of Bill Zeller's death the community was thinking about ways we could say "I am available" to the community for discussion of issues that some people find too difficult to talk to people in person about for a variety of reasons. We created the ThereIsHelp page on the wiki.

Proposal

We would like to have a small indicator, viewable to members only, that a MeFite is available for talking to about difficult/problematic issues. Based on what the ThereIsHelp page has evolved into, we'd like to have members be able to say they're available for either general contact or contact in a few broad areas. People could see this indicator on a user's profile page or there could be a simple sort for all users that are available in a general broad area. We're thinking some sort of small set of icons about the size of the backtagger icon we used to have and something like "I can help" with the icon or icons afterwards indicating which area a user could offer help in. You could pick up to three areas or "Any area." Clicking on the icon will take you to a list of users who have said they're available to talk on that topic, in some sort of random order. We'll explain this in longer detail in the FAQ.

The sections we're thinking about generally include

- Talk to me about anything, or...

- Substance Abuse (alcohol, drugs, addictions)
- Rape/Harassment/Domestic Abuse
- Mental Health Issues (anxiety, depression, therapy)
- GLBTQ concerns

We know we could have a dozen categories and that people are going to want finer granularity here, but this is something that we feel needs to be fairly concise. It's also not for just chitchatting about problem topics [children, pets, neighbors] it's supposed to be more or less "I am in danger/crisis and I need someone to talk to about X"

Caveats

- Obviously this is not supposed to be a substitute for professional help.
- People will need to be contactable via MeMail. It's okay if you have blocked certain people but not if your MeMail is turned off. Once people have made contact, feel free to follow-up with whatever mode of communication works for you.
- Users are welcome to participate or not, or even interact with certain users or not, but we'd like if people who opt to say they're available at least reply to queries, even if it's with "Can't help on this specific topic, sorry" Obviously we can't enforce this, but that is our general feeling.
- If people feel the need to be more specific about what they can't can't offer, they can put that in their profile pages.
- Regular caveats about MeMail apply. Please do not abuse the system. Please do not reveal MeMail conversations to the larger community.

Questions

- Does this sound about right?
- Is there a huge flaw that would keep you from using this, if you are the sort of person who is interested in this feature?
- What else do you think we need to consider that we have not considered?

Thanks for your time. I've personally received a lot of timely and appropriate help from different people in the community at various times and I'd love it if more people were able to share in this sort of community benefit.
posted by jessamyn to MetaFilter-Related at 10:14 AM (404 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

I don't have anything useful to say, but I do want to say thank you so much to you and everyone else who has & is working on putting this together.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:18 AM on July 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


Well what if someone in the immediate family holds the answer giver liable if someone does something bad and what if they sue MeFi? I am thinking about the few YANMD or YANML discussions we had here over the years.
posted by wheelieman at 10:19 AM on July 25, 2011


Would it be possible to include something for specific categories of stress? This might fall under general mental health issues but people might feel differently talking to someone about the stress of a divorce or not being able to find a job or trouble at work than about, for example, depression. I don't mean "I don't like people at work and it's annoying", I mean "I'm in a toxic situation and I'm really having trouble handling it to the point where it's deeply affecting me personally."

I'd also like to say that I think this is a good idea and I'm pleased to be part of a community that supports it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:19 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would love this. I would give people advice about anxiety/depression and how they can find a good therapist until the cows come home.
posted by sweetkid at 10:22 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well what if someone in the immediate family holds the answer giver liable if someone does something bad and what if they sue MeFi?

We're clear from the outset that this is not a substitute for therapy and we're not actually that worried about this.

Would it be possible to include something for specific categories of stress?

I think that might make sense as a subcategory of mental health. We were debating whether having users be able to make specific notes was useful but were concerned that people would either be too wordy or might not want to be very specific in a place that was even just user-public.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:28 AM on July 25, 2011


A good therapist is not really a substitute for cows.
posted by flabdablet at 10:31 AM on July 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


I like this a lot. I could image some small icons with tooltips to explain what each one means, shown to logged-in members only, of course.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:33 AM on July 25, 2011


I think that bad help can be worse than no help.

Not entirely sure how I feel about this, guess I will wait to hear what other people think.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:33 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the fewer categories the better. If I really needed help I would prefer not to spend a lot of time hunting through the categories to find just the right person.

I'll be honest, I have some concerns about this. I like the general idea, in a communitarian way, and I'm not someone who thinks that every problem needs a professional solution, despite being a helping professional. However, we're talking about people in crisis here, and I have some concerns about liability and appropriateness. Presumably anyone may sign up to be a "helper," but also presumably not everyone will be equally good at that task. Where AskMe threads provide a public airing of concerns, and a sort of auto-correction as a result, private emails do not. There's a risk not just that people will get bad advice, but also that they will not be "helped," leading to further feelings of helplessness. Unlike AskMe questions that provide some universalizing through context, private emails don't necessarily even do that. Even if it is not intended as a substitute for professional help, I think it will be used that way by people ambivalent about getting professional help.

I'd really like something like this to work, and as several members on here know, I've provided an ear or set of eyes to some folks in crisis, or with specific questions. I think there's a big difference between that kind of impromptu help, though, and something more formalized, as this is. I don't think I could participate, for instance, specifically because I'm a professional and the expectations for what my involvement in crises is exceeds what I could reasonably do here.
posted by OmieWise at 10:36 AM on July 25, 2011 [15 favorites]


Clicking on the icon will take you to a list of users who have said they're available to talk on that topic, in some sort of random order.

With a user base of 100K, if even one-tenth of one percent of users signed up for a given subject area, that would still be a list of 100 random people, which I think could be pretty overwhelming and possibly useless. Could the list display other user information to help people decide on whom to contact (age/gender/location seem like some obvious ones, perhaps there is more)?
posted by googly at 10:36 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


How granular is this going to be? Many people have contacted me over the tears about coming to terms with transgender stuff, and while I'm not sure how helpful I ever am I'd be happy to have a little button on my user page or whatever. But I'm not sure I just want to tick "LGBT" issues because that's a wider subject than I'm comfortable speaking on.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:38 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What else do you think we need to consider that we have not considered?

Horrible people. I love our little community, there is no reason to think that, like the real world, it is not full of just miserable, horrible people just waiting for a chance and the means to strike.
posted by griphus at 10:40 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


(Combine the "I'm here to help" auto-altruism system with the fact that people are more than willing to enter their ZIP codes and so on, well...)
posted by griphus at 10:41 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have similar concerns to the young rope-rider (bed help can be worse than no help). Additionally, I am worried about safety/privacy. Some of us on here know who the "real" folks are behind screen names. Many folks live in screen name anomity land (for many good reasons). That said, I fear someone who is a domestic violence or sexual violence survivor, for example, "reaching out" for help to someone without actually knowing who they are and that leading to potential safety threats (the person they reach out to actually knows x, y or z person and it gets back to an abuser (even unintentionally) etc). I recognize that the survivor in this type of situation would be making the choice to disclose to another mefi member (identity or information), but it still worries me - when people need help we make choices that compromise safety sometimes because of our need for help).

Additionally, my fear that not-so-great, even emotionally (or perhaps physically) predator.ish folks would be on here and have an icon worries me. I assume some type of community enforcement could address that, but not without some harm occurring already.

Just a few factor to consider. I recognize that people can already "do this" but more informally. Setting up a system seems to potentially heighten these risks.
posted by anya32 at 10:42 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


ha - BAD, not bed help. although bed help happens here all the time. sorry.
posted by anya32 at 10:43 AM on July 25, 2011


I'm cool with this. I think what we could also do is choose to be more specific, either in the freeform "tell the world about yourself" or a logged-in only free text expansion on "I can help with X". Just make that field optional.

question on the wiki: the specific recommends link to AskMe threads. Could there be space for listing recommends with no question attached, or would someone just make a new page?
posted by lysdexic at 10:44 AM on July 25, 2011


Horrible people.

At a certain point, we have to accept the possibility that at all times and in all places there could be some horrible person looking to be horrible; that goes for plenty of stuff that already happens on the site, and pretty much needs to be part of anyone's basic calculus of how and how publicly they interact with others on the internet.

Which is not to say it's not something to think about, but it's not an unconsidered aspect of the whole thing. If "someone might be horrible" was enough of a reason not to ever bank on people mostly being not horrible at all, Metafilter wouldn't exist in the first place.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:45 AM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'd be very happy to participate in this system, and think it would work well as outlined.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:48 AM on July 25, 2011


At a certain point, we have to accept the possibility that at all times and in all places there could be some horrible person looking to be horrible; that goes for plenty of stuff that already happens on the site

Right, but at least with anonymous AskMes, there is the opportunity for the rest of the community to shut down horribility by pointing out how off-base or unhelpful various comments are, or by flagging comments for deletion. The thought of shitty advice (deliberate or well-meaning but ultimately flawed) given to a person (who is already in an uncertain emotional/mental state) privately and with no oversight makes me a little nervous.
posted by elizardbits at 10:49 AM on July 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


Not nearly enough people ask me for advice. Sign me up!
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:50 AM on July 25, 2011


I was unaware of these plans until this thread, and I don't know if this idea is too close to AskMe, but what if you created a place where people looking for conversations about their specific problem express their issue in a couple sentences (which might include their preference for male or female responders), and then people who are interested can check this place to see if there are specific issues they feel they can help with?

I imagine people would want to be anonymous when posting a sensitive question, but then maybe the helpers could choose which ones they want to answer and then they get an automated message with the user's name? And then that question would show how many helpers had requested the info. Er. Maybe too complicated.

The reason I make this suggestion at all, is that folks could sign up as people willing to help, but then may not actually be available that specific day or weekend or whatever - might not even check their MeMail on a particular set of days.

Sorry if that is a bit incoherent. I just hate the thought of someone needing a friendly voice sending out a couple emails to well-meaning folks, and those folks not answering in a timely manner for whatever reason (even if only to say sorry, can't help you right now).

Also, I certainly appreciate the real concerns folks are raising, but I see the whole thing as more of an "I need someone to let me vent/listen to me/tell me I'll get through it" rather than "I've got a knife in my hand and I'm about to use it." (But maybe I misunderstood.)
posted by Glinn at 10:50 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Many people have contacted me over the tears about coming to terms with transgender stuff

This is a very touching slip.
posted by sweetkid at 10:51 AM on July 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


I wonder if there might be some sort of checks and balances system -- a way for somebody to flag when they have communicated with another MeFite and they have been unhelpful in some significant way.

I had an experience this weekend, discussing Amy Winehouse's death with a friend, and she has her own experiences as the ex-wife of an alcoholic and the child of somebody who is mentally ill, and she was invested in the Winehouse story in a way I am not. I am sympathetic, as I do not believe in blaming the mentally ill for the real-world effects of their mental illness, and see it as a potentially fatal illness. But she has been badly hurt by those real-world effect, and, instead of being sympathetic, was quite hostile. This sort of thing happens often, even in discussions between friends; there is a great risk that somebody might go to a stranger with a problem that just happens to dovetail with the stranger's own life experience, and result in an interaction that is more troubling than useful.

That being said, I don't think this should be an argument against attempting such a system. MeFites are, in general, a good, compassionate group with a great desire to help each other, and I think the net good will largely outweigh the net bad. I would be more than willing to help try such a system.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:51 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I... think I'm understanding this right?

I would be glad to help people deal with mental health issues/general life problems, but I am nervous that I would get over my head. (Things can escalate from "Hey, I'm kinda depressed" to "I am giving up on life entirely" really quickly, with a perfect storm of circumstances.)

Would there be some sort of "panic button" in case a Helper gets in too deep? Or would it be up to the Helper to say, "Yo, I want to help, but I am not trained for this and you need to call the suicide hotline, like, now!"

If it's the latter, I would have to set and remember some serious Helper boundaries and make a contingency plan if things go wrong. I would really have to consider how much responsibility I'm signing up for—both time-wise and personally.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:51 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


- Does this sound about right?

I love this. And I want to thank you very, very much for remembering it and working on it.

- Is there a huge flaw that would keep you from using this, if you are the sort of person who is interested in this feature?

Since the Bill Zeller thread, several people have contacted me privately for this purpose. In a couple of cases, I've felt very out of my depth, and have quietly referred them to either a help line or someone else I knew who had more experience, with as much kindness as possible.

Since this is (mostly) going to be an amateur community effort, it might be helpful for a MeFite with hotline or counseling experience to offer some very general guidelines for those of us who plan to volunteer. So we don't inadvertently do or say the wrong thing?

- What else do you think we need to consider that we have not considered?

Woiuld it be possible to add a free-form "notes" field that could allow a volunteer to create a bit of personal granularity? For example, a person might be able to speak about alcoholism but not be comfortable speaking about hard drug abuse. Or about say, sexual addiction. A small tag or an extra field might go a long way towards decreasing frustration for those in need, looking for a shoulder, who might begin contacting multiple people only to be told, "sorry, I'm afraid this is beyond me."
posted by zarq at 10:52 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


While it is true that one can imagine situations in which bad help was worse than no help, I do not think that is a particularly common occurrence especially with the discounting of advice we all do when asking strangers opinions on the internet, on a forum or in email.

I have had a great experience getting advice from friends and strangers, advice which complements professional advice.

In addition, I have made the deliberate choice to not place any obvious connections between my real identity and my metafilter identity, in part so I can feel free to talk about my depression, addiction and recovery freely. So if you want to chat about any of that, or about cookies, you just hit me up.
posted by shothotbot at 10:53 AM on July 25, 2011


It's not just bad people that I'm worried about, or predators. I worry about well-meaning people giving bad advice, "tough love", that kind of thing, too.

The current reality, where people notice that someone has experience with an issue and is willing to talk about it is vastly different than allowing people to just say "oh yeah, I have experience with that, sure" by checking a box.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:53 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Could someone link to the Bill Zeller thread? I think I must have missed that one.
posted by Think_Long at 10:54 AM on July 25, 2011


Bill Zeller Thread
posted by zarq at 10:57 AM on July 25, 2011


To add to zarq's comment: absolutely if you're going to volunteer for this, have a panic or go to hell plan ready. If there's a local group that deals with your area, join up or get the references you'll need so you can have them at hand.

If nothing else, get very familiar with the ThereIsHelp Page - sometimes people in crisis literally can't see what's in front of their face.
posted by lysdexic at 10:58 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


While it is true that one can imagine situations in which bad help was worse than no help, I do not think that is a particularly common occurrence especially with the discounting of advice we all do when asking strangers opinions on the internet, on a forum or in email.

The more I read about psychological treatment the more I realize that it is very, very easy to be well-meaning and even well-educated and still give bad help or bad advice to someone.

I wish The Straightener were still around; he made a few great comments to this effect in older threads. Maybe I'll see if I can dig some of them up.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:59 AM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


The thought of shitty advice (deliberate or well-meaning but ultimately flawed) given to a person (who is already in an uncertain emotional/mental state) privately and with no oversight makes me a little nervous.

I hear you. The thing that I think would answer that to the degree that it's possible at all for Metafilter to answer that sort of concern in any (including existing mefi-centric private communication) context is us making sure we have some clear communication about the fact that mods are available for feedback about anything weird coming of this.

If someone has a messed-up interaction with a helper, they should know that they can let us know something is up, just as if someone has a messed-up interaction with another mefite on mefimail right now or so on. We can follow up on the odd spot of trouble, uninvite someone from the helper rolls if necessary, etc.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:00 AM on July 25, 2011


One thing that occurs to me is that if we need a reason to put a list of available helpers on a topic in a specific order, we could consider making that order just "by most recent activity on the site". The person who left a comment an hour ago is more likely to be around to respond to mefimail than the person whose last comment was five weeks ago, etc.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:01 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'll even give away my first bit of advice:

Get a cat. The cat will have you trained in two or three days. Your life will have acquired a noble purpose (serving the cat). All your other concerns will come to seem insignificant.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:04 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


sweetkid: "This is a very touching slip."

I'd like to pretend I meant to do that.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:05 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


This sounds fine to me, I've been feeling a little strange about the big old note on my profile, though I have gotten a few private messages thanking me for having it there. I'd like having something more discreet.

by most recent activity on the site"
can we also have a way to choose the frequency with which we'd be comfortable getting new requests/messages? aardvark on my gmail has some settings that I can adjust. I can imagine that especially well known users here might get the bulk of contacts, especially if they are very very active over the course of the day. If they have been contacted to their quota they might not show up on the list until their "time period" has passed.
posted by bilabial at 11:06 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The more I read about psychological treatment the more I realize that it is very, very easy to be well-meaning and even well-educated and still give bad help or bad advice to someone.

So do you think the priority is to remove any possibility of someone getting bad advice at the expense of several people getting a sympathetic ear and the knowledge that someone made it through similar circumstances or do you discount the possibility of lay-people helping each other at all? Or am I misreading your concerns?

If you think we should not open up a Lucy Van Pelt style therapy stand: I agree. If you think the suggested contact system is likely to cause more (or even, about as much) harm than good: I disagree.
posted by shothotbot at 11:08 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish The Straightener were still around

I was just about to say the Straightener's account must be rolling around in its grave. I love the idea. The execution, not so much. The only way I think this system works is if helpers are required to refer folks over to professionals after talking with them. So if you sign up as help, you are required to maintain or know a list of numbers you can refer the person to after you talk to them and reassure them. It's basically the equivalent of seeing someone drowning, grabbing them and pulling them out of the water, and then making sure they get checked out by medical staff.

There is help, but that help should then refer people to the appropriate free helpline professionals.
posted by cashman at 11:09 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The person who left a comment an hour ago is more likely to be around to respond to mefimail than the person whose last comment was five weeks ago, etc.

I like this, but less because of repsonse-time (which is a plenty good idea, don't get me wrong) and more as a trust metric. It'd be great to limit by site activity as well, perhaps by being able to knock out people who haven't submitted -- just a rough and poorly-thought-through example here -- 100 comments to Human Relations. Or something like that.
posted by griphus at 11:11 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sounds to me a little like creating a community "first responder" system for giving physical first aid. It makes me thoroughly uncomfortable to have a scheme which is Officially Sanctioned but which does not have

- some means to make sure that volunteers are trained to respond appropriately, to know what the limits of an appropriate response are, to know what constitutes being "over their head" and to know what to do in that case

- some way to monitor the work of volunteers and identify if they are behaving inappropriately or being unhelpful

- a way to identify and properly help volunteers who are negatively personally affected by what they are dealing with.

I don't believe this scheme can be considered in the same ethical category as internet interactions such as "help me name my cat", or even "Should I eat this chicken I left on the counter" or "What should I do about this headache and dizziness". This is actively directing incredibly vulnerable people (including perhaps children), into private interactions with unknown and untrained individuals with no oversight.

I think that a scheme of this nature is a great idea but either it should stand up to the same level of scrutiny as a scheme for administering community first aid, or it should not be officially associated with a large trusted organisation such as Metafilter.

At the very least, a professional social worker or psychologist or similar should be consulted about the logistics and ethics.
posted by emilyw at 11:12 AM on July 25, 2011 [40 favorites]


You might also consider screening based on length of time on site, number of comments, whether or not they have needed a time-out or temporary ban...

Also please consider the well-being of the people who would volunteer.

There is a reason that suicide/DV/SA hotlines and crisis programs screen people in advance, supervise them, and often provide free counseling and support to their volunteers.

The more I think about this, the more I think that it creates a lot of new problems and doesn't solve much.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:13 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can imagine that especially well known users here might get the bulk of contacts, especially if they are very very active over the course of the day.

True. A refinement of the by-recent-activity sorting idea might be to just bucket folks into "has been around the last day" vs less-recent groups and randomize therein, or something.

Finding some way to try and help people looking for someone to talk/vent/etc to get ahold of someone likely to actually be around seems like worth thinking about one way or the other, in any case.

There is help, but that help should then refer people to the appropriate free helpline professionals.

I think having this system in place will provide a good foundational structure for, and incentive for people to getting familiar with, a solidification of the the already-existing wiki "There Is Help" resources. Having folks willing to sign on to this have, specifically, a set of ready resources they're aware of and can point folks to beyond their own personal ability to help on the short term is definitely a desirable thing, yeah, and I think is a big part of what a lot of folks who've expressed interest would want to have happen where possible.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:14 AM on July 25, 2011


cashman: "The only way I think this system works is if helpers are required to refer folks over to professionals after talking with them. So if you sign up as help, you are required to maintain or know a list of numbers you can refer the person to after you talk to them and reassure them. It's basically the equivalent of seeing someone drowning, grabbing them and pulling them out of the water, and then making sure they get checked out by medical staff."

That'd be a big full stop in a lot of areas, though. Professional care can be difficult to find for transgender people, for example, and there's no way I could maintain a worldwide list of safe, reliable practitioners. There are forums that collect and maintain that information, but they hide it behind a validated members wall for obvious reasons. Even if the full extent of my contact with someone is pass on a forum link, that's more than you can get by googling.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:14 AM on July 25, 2011


This seems like a formalism of what already often happens in anonymous AskMes -- it's not unusual for one or more responders to add an "if you want to talk more about this, MeMail me".

But it skips the public part of that process. I don't know if that is a good thing or not; it is, as others have noted, somewhat self-correcting in that obviously bad advice gets called out. It also seems to me that AskMes are sometimes useful in providing the OP with an aggregate opinion that they may have been discounting.

(I wonder if providing a means for the OP to anonymously follow-up in their AskMe would be more useful? I know that's been discussed ad infinitum before, but still.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:15 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that worrying about a mefi giving bad advice is kind of like worrying an on-duty rehab nurse for being sharp with a patient when she's tired after a long shift. (I knew someone who used that as an excuse to walk out of rehab.) These things happen; the people who may reach out to us are in crisis, and if they're going to screw up, it's probably not going to be because of one anonymous person. The benefits, in my opinion, far outweigh the possible problems.
posted by Melismata at 11:20 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like the thought behind the idea, but think it's too limiting because it limits itself to one to one contact.

There was an anon AskMe a while ago from somebody who needed help. Several people responded to question, offering help. Then a suggestion was made to start a Google group so that ALL the people who wanted to help could work together to help the individual. Those who lived in the same city as the OP visited the person and assisted with various things only a live person could do, while those who weren't nearby organized themselves in other helpful ways.

I would much rather see that sort of group help incorporated into the site or sanctioned somehow, as it acts as double check against horrible people, divides the work and lets people help while in various ways. Use the power of the group.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:21 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think this is a great idea.

For many years during college, I lived in a co-op of roughly 30 graduate and undergraduate students. Of course each student had their roles to play within the co-op. I held the elected position of "Ear" for a few years. An "Ear" was a person who anybody could talk to, any time, about anything. The Ear promised to listen, day or night, without judgment. The Ear did NOT promise to fix problems, know what the right course of action was, or provide wise advice. Of course, as Ear, I tried to be helpful, as much as possible, and many of the others that were elected as Ears over the years also tried. But the Ears' only obligation was to listen.

I think this new proposed function is similar. Because there are so many mefites, one may be able to pick somebody to talk to who has had experiences similar to one's own, and that's wonderful. But I think it would be wise to make it clear that the purpose of this feature is to allow people to connect to empathetic and friendly listening ears, with no expectation that substantial advice or material help will be provided.
posted by Cygnet at 11:22 AM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


It makes me thoroughly uncomfortable to have a scheme which is Officially Sanctioned but which does not have

We should make it more clear that this is a way to find someone to talk to and not a way to actually "get help" which is exactly the sort of small-but-important point that's really important here. We can clarify that in the FAQ and elsewhere. While the ThereIsHelp page on the wiki is actually supposed to help people find trained professionals, this is more for people to find someone to talk to who is NOT a trained professional but may be slightly less anonymous to them than a random person on the street or slightly more anonymous than the friend they're having a hard time talking to.

This is not supposed to be like therapy, a suicide hotline, talking to a doctor, or anything else along those lines. It's supposed to facilitate people who are in a tough spot being able to talk to another plain-old-user.

One of the things we learn early on in library school is that people, maddeningly, often go to the worst sources for solving their information needs. They buy a car by talking to friends, not reading Consumer Reports, or whatever. So the thought process behind this is that taking it as a given that people are going to be talking to other people about heavy stuff often before or instead of talking to professionals; asking ourselves if having a way for people to find people to talk to on MeFi liable to do more harm than good? People already, for example, use the Anon feature to ask questions about suicide. We don't approve them. We write to people directly. I wish it weren't true that this was how the world works, or even the MeFi world works, but it is.

Obviously there is a non-zero level of problem associated with this sort of thing and I'm not one of those people who says "If we can just save one life anything else would be worth it!" but I'm also well aware that we have a lot of people in this community who have dealt with some difficult shit and who might be able to share some advice, knowledge, or a friendly ear for someone who could use it. I do see it more as a "Hey I've got some experience in this area, MeMail me if you want" comment in AskMe, only available on a more regular basis. Probably crisis is the wrong word.

Use the power of the group.

This is actually the sort of thing that, for the most part, really needs to happen offsite actually. Having a group coordinated situation for helping members out can be really problematic and have weird blowback effects on the site. Not that we don't think MeFis can and should band together to do things, but it needs to be clear what is a site effort and what is not and blurry lines in the past have led to a whole lot of headache.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:25 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


As someone with a few years training/experience in suicide prevention/crisis counseling, I would happily volunteer. But I know it can get really, really time consuming and intensive being there for people full-time. It can get exhausting. I'm also a little worried about what happens when someone reaches out and doesn't hear back; I would hope someone would try a few people, but that's not always a guarantee. I'm usually quick to reply to MeFiMail, but sometimes I put off dealing with time-intensive stuff when I'm busy or low energy (sadly, part of being an introvert is that social interactions are energy-draining).

All of that said, if anyone needs someone to talk to, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. In addition to MeFiMail/regular-old-email, I'm often on IRC. At least with IRC, if I'm not there, there's almost always someone else there (we have a bunch of farsiders, too, if it's night-time in the US). Though I am, AFAIK, the only one "qualified" for crisis counseling. They may not be able to talk to you about suicidal thoughts, but it's someone to talk to, who doesn't know your or your situation with all the pre-loaded judgements that come from that, and that's often better than no one to talk to.

Having someone to talk to is a big help. I know bad advice is a problem; I agree with Kat on that score. But sometimes folks just need validation. Maybe we could get a few folks with mental health counseling backgrounds to put together a quicklist of tips for the folks who will be doing the counseling? Almost anyone can validate someone's feelings, and I think that's one of the most important things an untrained person can do for someone. But you have to know how to do it (e.g., avoid minimizing statements). Which kinda requires training, I guess (how to avoid minimzing).

So yeah, I'm on the fence. Having someone to talk to is very important, but it's important that both parties have some kind of expectation. I don't really have any training on gender issues, so I don't know how broadly applicable one person's "It gets better" experience is to another. For that sort of thing, this may be great. But for suicide? That's a toughie. There's a potential for bad feelings all around, esp. if you're the person who tried to help and the other person still goes ahead with it. You can't save everyone.

I would be happy to work on any kind of document or site copy for this project, if it will help people a) better ask for the help they need or b) help the askees better give the help they intend to give.
posted by Eideteker at 11:30 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is not supposed to be like therapy, a suicide hotline, talking to a doctor, or anything else along those lines. It's supposed to facilitate people who are in a tough spot being able to talk to another plain-old-user.

Put this exact disclaimer on a button you click to get to another user, and I think you're set. Just a blank page and that button.
posted by cashman at 11:31 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


The more I think about this, the more I think that it creates a lot of new problems and doesn't solve much.

One of the things mentioned in the Bill Zeller thread, and that I've discussed privately with a few other MeFites, is that our experience with "official channels" -- hotlines and therapists, have at times been negative. To a point where interacting with them has exacerbated, rather than alleviated a crisis. There were comments in the thread which essentially said that having someone to speak with would be helpful -- especially if a topic is difficult to discuss with outsiders.

So we need to be cognizant of both what reasonable expectations might look like with this system, as well as how they might be presented to someone seeking a shoulder.

No one should expect any volunteer to be a therapist substitute. If the best they can do is point someone in the direction of possible resources or a helpful community, or offer reassurance or support stemming from their own personal experience, that can be very positive.
posted by zarq at 11:31 AM on July 25, 2011


These things happen; the people who may reach out to us are in crisis, and if they're going to screw up, it's probably not going to be because of one anonymous person.

They're not going to "screw up". They might commit suicide, or go off of their much-needed medication, or simply get no help and feel even more hopeless than they did before.

The attitude that simply being anonymous or a lay-person somehow makes one immune to fucking up (but not immune to having a positive effect, funny how that works) is a very dangerous attitude to have when you're dealing with people in crisis.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:32 AM on July 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


"But it skips the public part of that process."

Yeah, this was also a concern for me. There's not really an audit process. I don't expect "so and so gave me bad advice" to bleed into MetaTalk very much, but I worry about people talking. "Don't go to her, she was no help to me," hurts if the person was just having a bad day or the situation wasn't really something they had expertise with (but they wanted to help anyway). I mean, one situation (the user giving the disrecommendation) is not going to be the same as another (the user seeking the recommendation). There's also concerns about everyone recommending the same person, and that person getting overloaded (or feeling terribly guilty for having to foist people off on another person (who they also trust, which, again, is going to be a smaller circle than the whole; the load may not be balanced).

This is why these things are often done through phone lines/chats. You get whoever's available at the moment. And there's some oversight.

Not dealbreakers, but stuff to be aware of.
posted by Eideteker at 11:36 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that worrying about a mefi giving bad advice is kind of like worrying an on-duty rehab nurse for being sharp with a patient when she's tired after a long shift.

No it's not. At all. That rehab nurse may be having a bad day, but s/he is a trained, experienced professional who is not anonymous and is accountable for his/her actions to his/her employers and to a licensing board, none of which are true about a situation like this.

Don't get me wrong. I think that this is a wonderful, noble idea that has sprung only from the best part of people-- the desire to help those in great need. However, like others, I am extremely leery of the essential anonymity and lack of training and accountability in the process as outlined.

As others have advised, I would strongly suggest that the powers that be discuss this plan with a trained professional and see what kind of system of training and accountability could be put in place prior to launching the service.
posted by dersins at 11:37 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just wanted to say that I love this idea and, while I don't have any ideas about how to make it better, I'd really like to be part of it.
posted by koeselitz at 11:41 AM on July 25, 2011


O gods. I was away from MeFi when this happened. Since I came back, I had been idly wondering why I didn't see anything from null terminated but I didn't follow up. Shit.
posted by subbes at 11:43 AM on July 25, 2011


Yeah, I'm with Koeselitz. All issues aside, which I can't really address with any better ideas or fixes, I think this is utterly fantastic.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:43 AM on July 25, 2011


Not that we don't think MeFis can and should band together to do things, but it needs to be clear what is a site effort and what is not and blurry lines in the past have led to a whole lot of headache.

This plan retains all the appearance of a "site effort" while deliberately removing the means of oversight that makes the rest of the site the pleasant place that it is. It also removes the means of monitoring the facility in order to see whether it is working as intended.

I can see that the job of moderator can be a major headache, and that moderating discussions with severely troubled people would be even more so. But this is like the local walk in clinic saying "We don't have any ICU beds here, and dealing with intensive care patients is a headache, but we don't like to turn away people with such serious health problems, so we'll let them stay in the shed with the caretaker. He's a lovely guy and makes a great cup of tea!"
posted by emilyw at 11:44 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm with those who have concerns about this. There's a reason people go to school and train to learn to do work like this. It's really hard (my husband is training as a hospital chaplain right now, so I'm getting a glimpse of the process). To be totally blunt, I've met enough Mefites in real life to know that some users are not emotionally healthy enough to care even for themselves, let alone others. I'll grin and bear it when they're answering questions on AskMe, I think people know you get what you pay for over there, but it seems even more problematic to allow anyone interested to volunteer to minister to desperate people.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:46 AM on July 25, 2011 [26 favorites]


The attitude that simply being anonymous or a lay-person somehow makes one immune to fucking up (but not immune to having a positive effect, funny how that works) is a very dangerous attitude to have when you're dealing with people in crisis.

Indeed. The more I think about this idea, the more it sounds terrible, though well intentioned. You've going to have untrained volunteers who may or may be available or able to do the job. That's sounds like a recipe for disaster.

What happens when everyone in crisis wants to talk to one particular person and that person is overwhelmed? Or on vacation? Or is in Australia and the person in crisis is in America, so the 12-14 hour time difference fucks with the response? What happens when the Australian wakes up to find the response, only to discover the American killed themselves because they couldn't reach someone? That is not going to be good day.

I use to volunteer information about certain subjects. Then I started getting requests for help from people not on the site, which was overwhelming, something to be considered.

No one should expect any volunteer to be a therapist substitute.

I don't think that's a reasonable expectation of someone in crisis. They're probably not going to be thinking clearly or perhaps even sanely.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:55 AM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


"...but it seems even more problematic to allow anyone interested to volunteer to minister to desperate people."

This is pretty much my concern. If the people in question are desperate, quality control is important, because they have no criteria to judge by/are in no state to judge the advice they're getting. It's good to have someone to talk to if it's not urgent, but the moment it becomes crisis, the game changes. So as long as you're clear about that in the FAQ, it might be alright. I still agree with dersins that it makes a lot of sense to talk to someone with professional experience. If possible, not just in counseling but in setting up/running a counseling service. How much can a layperson help? How can they best help?

Road to hell, good intentions, etc.
posted by Eideteker at 11:55 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I did crisis counseling training, one of the most helpful things to me was that they drew a big circle shape on the chalkboard and made wedges representing how much of the mental health "landscape" of New York City we were part of. Therapists/psychiatrists were the largest wedge. AA was a large wedge. Clergy, another large wedge. We were a relatively small wedge. I honestly believe people in crisis need as many wedges as possible to get the help they need to get healthy. I certainly did.
posted by sweetkid at 11:58 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I commend the intentions but I don't think having a formal arrangement as suggested is a good idea on the whole. I think this community works best as is : for those of a certain persuasion who join and read and stay for some time and participate, they'll know that there are people here they can approach or else they can pose anonymous questions to AskMe and be reasonably comfortable the balance of replies will be useful. That's a badge of integrity right there, as we all know, and I think this sort of support is best arrived at organically: this is not a crisis intervention centre.

I would rather see the mods be put on crisis counselling courses, not to be advertised around on the site, but so they're more in tune with the spider's web of support options to which they can refer people if needed. After all, they get the bulk of cries des coeurs, obviously.
posted by peacay at 11:59 AM on July 25, 2011


Just adding my bean to the plate: I agree with those that have reservations about this.
posted by item at 12:01 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fully agreed with previous posters, your heart is in the right place, but in reality, unless you moderate it (which itself isnt a great idea, plus more work on the mod side) this doesnt seem likely to work
posted by wheelieman at 12:01 PM on July 25, 2011


Having worked through "professional" and also "official" sources of "help" in the last year, I have one thing to share:

While a trained professional can be helpful, more often than not, all you get from the "pros" (especially the free ones, hotlines, etc) are dozens of tiring, impersonal questions that subtly impugn and humiliate, requests for more information, and suggested numbers to call. And they end the call by telling you to call back. Or they'll call back. And that is the sum total of what you get from them:

You're entered into a database somewhere. You feel like you've been accused of something. And it's going to happen again.

There is something to be said for talking to a real person, one you might already be vaguely familiar with. Someone who has-at their fingertips- the kinds of resources I mentioned above, but who also has some first-hand experience. Because for many of these kinds of issues - in my mind, rape and LGBTQ stuff - you have to have experienced them to be able to relate.

And often, that is what people are looking for. Someone to relate to, an ear to bend, and the feeling that they are not completely alone. This service could provide that, along with a way to cleanly and concretely access the "professional" resources out there. To me, a service like that would be worth a lot. Why do I say that? Because a number of people have reached out to me on this very site, and moved me right out of the path of danger, a couple different times.

The one worry I have is that it would be subverted like "pregnancy hotlines" that just guilt you and direct you to religious organizations.
posted by fake at 12:02 PM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I thought this wasn't a referendum on whether to do it or not.
posted by sweetkid at 12:02 PM on July 25, 2011


At the very least, a professional social worker or psychologist or similar should be consulted about the logistics and ethics.

Well, I’m a professional clinical social worker, and I think the ethics here are kind of dubious. Part of that is personal. As I said above, my duty to help is greater than that of others who are not professionals, and I think it would preclude me from participating in this. I would think that any other professional would be similarly precluded, since the duties exceed the ability to manage them. I obviously haven’t called my insurance company and asked, but I would be shocked if my malpractice insurance would cover something like this. Because of the formality of the system I think this is much different from saying “feel free to MefiMail me” in a thread.

But those are personal issues that shouldn’t necessarily derail the project. I really like the idea of people helping people, coming together to get their needs met, and I’m communitarian enough to think that something like this sounds really nice. I don’t think it would have saved Bill Zeller, but that’s not a reason not to do it either. However, and again as I said upthread, I worry that it is not accountable. I’m also confused at this point as to what it’s for. On the one hand it’s supposed to be for people in crisis, but on the other it’s not supposed to replace a suicide hotline. Since there will be no screening, there’s no way to enforce that, and how would we enforce it anyway? What is the well-meaning Samaritan to do when they feel like they’re in over their head? Surely telling someone in crisis that has summoned the courage to reach out to go away is not a great option. There isn’t a supervisor or anyone else to shuttle them off to.

So, if it’s not actually meant to help people in crisis (since it won’t replace the professional systems that are supposed to do that) who is it helping? I would submit that if folks aren’t in crisis, a less formal system, essentially the one in place now, would get the job done without the downfalls of this one.

I’m very torn about this. I like the idea as an idea when I think about it from a community point of view, I dislike it when I think of it from the viewpoint of a professional.
posted by OmieWise at 12:03 PM on July 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


"I don't think that's a reasonable expectation of someone in crisis. They're probably not going to be thinking clearly or perhaps even sanely."

I swear I previewed and this comment was not there when I did. But yes, what Brandon said.

Don't get me wrong. I will gladly and proudly be the first to volunteer if this happens. I mean, I already have been doing this informally for years (and folks on #bunnies have seen me do it, heh). But again, I have training. I'm also not afraid to tactfully state when I'm in over my head, and to set boundaries.

I'm happy to help any way that I can, just tread carefully.
posted by Eideteker at 12:04 PM on July 25, 2011


So, people who can't stand this idea: what do I do when someone MeMails me cold - as has happened in the past - wanting more information/help with something I have previously mentioned in a comment? Do I need to report myself to the mods for giving advice/information? What about AskMe, or other websites that function as support groups for various issues, should those be shut down?

I think you might be taking this a little too seriously.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:04 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think it has to be so extreme; sometimes someone just wants a sounding board, to talk to someone real who has been in a similar situation and is not being paid to listen.

I've noticed a tendency here to equate therapy/advice to crisis. It doesn't always have to be that way. Someone going through a rough time does not automatically mean they're standing on a bridge, so to speak.

Sometimes, it's just nice to know that you're not alone, and to have another voice confirming that.
posted by geckoinpdx at 12:06 PM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: " I don't think that's a reasonable expectation of someone in crisis. They're probably not going to be thinking clearly or perhaps even sanely."

Which is why in the sentence directly before the one you quoted, I said:

"So we need to be cognizant of both what reasonable expectations might look like with this system, as well as how they might be presented to someone seeking a shoulder."

To clarify, if this system happens, I am suggesting that it would need to be implemented in such a way that reasonable expectations and caveats are made very clear to both the person offering to lend an ear, and the person seeking them out, prior to their interaction.

Worth also mentioning: As has been stated by them at least a couple of times in this thread, the mods are not intending that this be a substitute for therapy or a crisis hotline. Hence: jessamyn: " This is not supposed to be like therapy, a suicide hotline, talking to a doctor, or anything else along those lines. It's supposed to facilitate people who are in a tough spot being able to talk to another plain-old-user."

Also jessamyn: "Obviously this is not supposed to be a substitute for professional help."

This is not to dismiss any of the concerns being raised in this thread, many of which I think are quite valid and should be addressed.
posted by zarq at 12:08 PM on July 25, 2011


So, people who can't stand this idea: what do I do when someone MeMails me cold - as has happened in the past - wanting more information/help with something I have previously mentioned in a comment? Do I need to report myself to the mods for giving advice/information? What about AskMe, or other websites that function as support groups for various issues, should those be shut down?

I think you might be taking this a little too seriously.


I think you might be being too glib. There's a distinct difference between someone cold calling you, or even being invited by you informally to ask talk, and a formal system that essentially vouches for you (in a certain way) as a person it might be good to talk with about a crisis.
posted by OmieWise at 12:09 PM on July 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think you might be taking this a little too seriously.

I think the worry here (at least for me) is that we will end up in situations not where someone else merely wants more information than they've already received from the community, as per your examples, but that we will have situations where one volunteer mefite may be the sole person responsible for helping someone in need.
posted by elizardbits at 12:12 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this system would be great for "I'm in a funk about a romance gone bad, need someone to vent to" or "I can't lift anything heavy, I'm in Seattle, can you help" type of stuff. I worry a bit about serious medical or mental health issues.

I'm wondering if a way to show availability would simply be showing a "I'm available" icon after a user's name in an askme thread, which the question answerer could elect to show when they answer the question. This might allow at least a little public vetting before the person gets in touch. (Then again, we see askmes all the time where the questioner ONLY wants their pre-conceived notions affirmed when the very clear solution is exactly the opposite of what they want to hear. Getting hold of someone who enables them to not face the reality of their situation would be not too great.)

There are mefites whom I respect who none-the-less have completely whack ideas about certain specific things and whom I would never ask for an opinion or advice on that specific matter. For example, I think it would be awful for someone with a medicine question ("Has anyone used drug x?") to get in touch with a homeopathy advocate, or someone wanting to terminate a pregnancy and wanting to know what it's like talking to a right-to-life warrior.

Dunno.
posted by maxwelton at 12:12 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What happens when everyone in crisis wants to talk to one particular person and that person is overwhelmed? Or on vacation?

Ooh, yes. There should definitely be a way on the user side of things to temporarily remove your availability icon thingy for vacation/busy week at work/&c.
posted by elizardbits at 12:15 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I also think that MetaFilter LLC should consult some professional helpline bodies to discuss the potential therapeutic and legal risks of setting up such a system.

That being said, I'm sure that in 99% of cases this would end well.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 12:19 PM on July 25, 2011


Which is why in the sentence directly before the one you quoted, I said:

"So we need to be cognizant of both what reasonable expectations might look like with this system, as well as how they might be presented to someone seeking a shoulder."


Again, what's reasonable to someone in crisis? That questions isn't aimed at your specifically zarq, but the community at large.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:21 PM on July 25, 2011


I've gotten rid of it, but I used to have a line in my profile to indicate "I am [X]-friendly in case you need to talk about that", for a certain value of X. I've benefitted a lot from being able to find some people to talk to about X, just in a relaxed way - not because I was in a crisis, but because it was something that occupied a lot of my thinking and I wanted the freedom of being able to talk about it with someone rather than just letting the thoughts pressure-cook. Or, indeed, just to be able to talk about other things like people normally do, without the mental pressure of making sure I didn't let anything slip that I shouldn't.

As long as this stays at about that level of formality, I'm tentatively optimistic about it. Maybe it is not too different from those "Safe Zone" stickers I have seen on office doors from time to time.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:21 PM on July 25, 2011


Also chiming in as having reservations about this plan. And agreeing with ThePinkSuperhero.

I get the idea. In my neighborhood growing up there were signs in people's windows who were open to people in trouble knocking on their door. As more households had working parents and latchkey kids, some people felt it was important that those kids knew where to go if their parents weren't around, and that parents felt there were neighbors who would help them. I think this works on a small scale, but not on a larger one.

There will be people who will "sign up" to have those badges on their profile because they think they are the type who can handle things; when they are not prepared for what CAN happen.

There will be people who will "sign up" because they don't want to be seen as the type of person who doesn't want to help; and they aren't prepared for what can happen.

There will be people who will judge other people by whether or not they "sign up" to be a ThereIsHelp provider. Someone will be be an ass in MetaTalk and someone else will chime in with "WTF are you even here, you don't even care enough to be a ThereIsHelp member."

I get there are lots of great people here and many of them have done an excellent job helping their fellow community members in the past, but I personally think the community does it's job better as a community (AskMe, MetaTalk) than it might as individuals. Checks and balances.

If this service is needed, perhaps a site separate from AskMe where people can ask for help (anonymously) and community members can offer advice. Users can give a zip code so community members in that area who may be familiar with professionals who give such care can offer such advice.

I get the need, but question the implementation.
posted by terrapin at 12:41 PM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Judged for having/not having an icon on the profile? This is a thing?

Maybe call it "buddies" then. I know that there have been professionals on here who help out and then get overwhelmed with people essentially asking for free medical advice. All we can do is say "this is for talking, for airing out, and maybe pointers to help" in as many blinky-tag, boldy ways we can and go.

I'd rather do something and make a mistake that not do something out of fear.
posted by lysdexic at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2011


To answer the actual, original question, I would suggest that people be able to tag their ThereIsHelp availability. The icon could be followed by tags indicating what the helper is comfortable with. As an example, I am happy to talk very openly with people about and try to provide resources for the following topics: addiction, infidelity, recovery, abortion, infertility, loss.

Perhaps each of those could be a tag that linked to other helpers who also listed that topic. I think that would work well for the majority of topics, though on thinking about it I'm not sure how to indicate that I'm also really, really happy to talk to people about having gay parents and the issues around that. Probably though, that's a less urgent, more widely-resourced topic these days. Maybe the fact it doesn't lend itself well to tagging somehow indicates it isn't a good match for what I understand this indicator should... indicate.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:04 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think as long as it's couched this in terms of folks available to lend a compassionate ear as opposed to (or perhaps in addition to?) being experienced in certain subjects, that's great. I'd be down.
posted by smirkette at 1:15 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are some things that make AskMe a valuable resource that are missing from ThereIsHelp. On AskMe there's a multitude of different voices in the answers, so any extremes in the advice may cancel each other out and factual errors may be called out and corrected either in the thread itself or in Meta; everything happens out in the open, so people hopefully think twice before posting anything that's mean or obviously wrong; and it's moderated so anything that's too far over the line has a good chance of being removed.

ThereIsHelp, on the other hand, would be one-on-one communication which doesn't happen in the open and isn't moderated. This doesn't mean that it's bound to go wrong, but it does mean that this isn't necessarily something that MetaFilter is good at.
posted by rjs at 1:18 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it would be better if AskMe culture got more in the habit of ending our answers with "feel free to memail me with questions, or just to talk" instead of outlining some sort of quasi-official tag system (I have the same reservations as others have mentioned).

as an aside, I think it would be great to improve the memail feature if that's where this is going to go
posted by Think_Long at 1:23 PM on July 25, 2011


as an aside, I think it would be great to improve the memail feature if that's where this is going to go

In what ways do you think it needs to be improved?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:26 PM on July 25, 2011


I like DarlingBri's idea about the tags. As for the workability of this idea in itself, I don't see it as different from what already goes on. I have reached out to various MeFites hoping that they'd have some wisdom to share in their area of expertise. It's never been a crisis situation, and yet I've wondered whether one-on-one contact would truly be welcomed. This is a way to say sure, the door's open if you'd like to talk to me about (X).
posted by Wordwoman at 1:26 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ran this past a friend of mine who's studying to be a therapist and who suffers from various issues. She's with emilyw on the ethics and she herself has concerns over the potential for codependent subversion (her words), based on her own experiences with getting unmoderated help from individuals on the internet.

I do know that when I worked the line, people who had actually called the helpline within the last X months were not eligible to take calls.

That being said, if we can do this with our eyes as open as possible, I'm willing to take part.

As for logistics, put a generic help tag or icon, maybe a tag cloud to choose from, and a text field for more descriptive comments, all viewable to logged in users.
posted by lysdexic at 1:31 PM on July 25, 2011


Here's a fast mock-up of how tags could be used, pretty well dropping into the current profile. I included the [?] to link to an explanatory page on this initiative.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:34 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


(PS: And if you're happy to talk about anything, as suggested in the OP, anything would make a fine tag!)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:35 PM on July 25, 2011


I love the idea and intentions behind this, and I'd like to take part. I'm sure we're going to have some hurdles to get over initially, but I can't think of any other online community who could do this as well.

If anyone needs someone to talk to about depression and getting through it, meds, etc., please consider referring them to me.
posted by misha at 1:38 PM on July 25, 2011


Nice icon DarlingBri!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:39 PM on July 25, 2011


I cannot fucking believe this is even being proposed, let alone getting a largely favourable response.

That being said, I'm sure that in 99% of cases this would end well.

Well, quite. It's the 1% I'm worried about.

I mean, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that someone will end up killing themselves after receiving some well-meaning but inappropriate advice from a ThereIsHelper who, being untrained and inexperienced, thinks the person they're talking to is feeling a bit down when in fact they're sitting there toying with a noose/gun/bottle of pills.

And, of course, no one would ever know. The ThereIsHelper would be pleased that they'd been able to 'help', the suicide's account would go quiet without anyone noticing, and this foolish, dangerous experiment in one-to-one pseudo-counselling by untrained volunteers would carry on regardless.

Brilliant.
posted by jack_mo at 1:44 PM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Glad to see this moving forward. I like DarlingBri's tag idea.

I think if this is happening, there's going to have to be at least a small amount of vetting on the mod side -- I don't think we want brand-new accounts with no history of being involved in the community to be able to sign up, for example. I'm sure it would be difficult if not impossible to actually personally vet every person who signs up, but I also hope there'd be some backend, "Um, you have a history of getting in fights with people on the site, maybe this isn't such a good idea for you to get involved in" conversations if people who have histories like that do decide to sign up.

I just mention that because I'm concerned about accountability, as several other people are. If I manage to pull myself out of the muck of depression to reach out to somebody on MeFi and they act like a jerk in some way, what sort of consequences will they face? Somebody mentioned the possibility of being able to flag someone who wasn't helpful. If there were such a flag system, would the mods be able or willing to have a behind-the-scenes chat with those people about their lack of helpfulness, and/or suspend them from being represented on the helper list?

All that said, it bears thinking about the kind of person who is going to make use of this system. There will be old-timers who've been here for years and who've watched the fights and the flameouts and have a half-decent idea of who'd be a good person to reach out to and who wouldn't; and then there would be the brand-new users or the ones who never hang out anywhere but in the AskMe threads that directly pertain to them and aren't familiar with who's who in the community at all. For those people it needs to be made extra-clear what this is and what it's not, and for those people the tagging idea would probably be most helpful in figuring out who to reach out to. The flagging idea might be more helpful for that kind of person too.

I still like the old idea of a short free-form field for a helper to say a few words, "I've struggled with depression and suicide attempts and I know how hard it is," etc.
posted by Gator at 1:46 PM on July 25, 2011


I think this is something that will work better the more "crisis" is taken out of the equation. That's what most people here seem to be hung up on -- the idea that our system would be likely to let down someone who needs urgent, sincere help. Some people reach out for "help" when they are brooding and feeling contemplative, others don't reach out till they're really on the very edge of something terrible. I think that the trick of setting this up as a support network is to make it very clear what sort of "help" is available and what isn't. In fact, even using the term "help" is maybe a bad idea.

I imagine this as being more like a sort of network for deeper conversations about certain subjects. I wouldn't want someone to write to me if they were on the very brink. But I am happy to have thoughtful conversations about gay issues with just about anyone, and these often touch on very important real life issues -- for myself as well as the person writing to me.

I think it's a good idea because while I try to drop a "memail me if you want to" in a lot of AskMe threads, I don't in all of them. It would be nice to be sort of bookmarked as available for these discussions. I have dealt with people in tricky legal or psycholoical situations who contacted me through MeFi, and it wasn't pleasant. It's also not the norm. I have had to write "Sorry, I can't help you" a bunch of times.

I think that there is the kernel of a very interesting project here, and I would love to help (haha) in any way I can to make sure that this doesn't become abused or perceived as a substitute for real help.
posted by hermitosis at 1:49 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Obviously this is not supposed to be a substitute for professional help

But what about when the MeFite in question is a professional? This reminds me of the recurring discussions we've had over the years about lawyers and ethics on MetaTalk. As others have said above, MeFites who are licensed mental health professionals may have ethical or regulatory issues related to this proposal.

Off the top of my head: if I am licensed to practice in my home state, I do not have permission to practice in another state unless I also seek licensure there, and my profession's code of ethics states that counseling across state lines on the Internet or by telephone counts as practicing in another state. What about people who are still in school or who are post-graduation but still required to practice under supervision? Folks in this thread have implied that, of course, MeFites wouldn't sue each other - but the possibility of a lawsuit against someone who's in training or not licensed in the asker's jurisdiction has a chilling effect.
posted by catlet at 1:51 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh YAY practical, intelligent compassion in action. Thank you so much for creating this.
posted by nickyskye at 1:51 PM on July 25, 2011


I wouldn't want someone to write to me if they were on the very brink.

What I should have said is, of course I would want someone to write me if they were on the brink, as opposed to doing nothing or doing something awful. BUT, there's a big difference between someone electing to do so randomly because of something I wrote on a website somewhere, and someone being encouraged to do so. I'm not really that guy.
posted by hermitosis at 1:57 PM on July 25, 2011


I think that the trick of setting this up as a support network is to make it very clear what sort of "help" is available and what isn't.

People with mental health problems aren't always able to judge the severity of their mental illness or communicate the degree of help they require.
posted by jack_mo at 2:00 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hi. For many years I was the director of the Southern California AIDS Hotline. I have trained hundreds of volunteers in listening skills, advice vs. information, de-escalation and the like. In fact, I wrote our manual. I'd be happy to do an online skills course or put sections up of the manual or teach an in person class if anyone was interested.

Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.
posted by Sophie1 at 2:01 PM on July 25, 2011 [15 favorites]


I profoundly do not get the objections to this idea. It seems like the better is being the enemy of the good. Since we can't guarantee good help or good advice, we shouldn't even attempt to do something positive? Is that really what people are saying? How is it better to make no effort at all? Or are we pretending that people who want to reach out are better off in isolation? Perhaps everyone who would take advantage of this initiative lives in a psychiatric utopia where perfect therapists address their every need at affordable rates and accessing such help is easy and without shame.

I live in the real world where the overwhelming majority of problems get taken to friends and family members. Imperfect lay people who do their best to muddle through.

I don't doubt that this community, like all communities, is imperfect. But that doesn't mean that nothing is better than something.
posted by prefpara at 2:03 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't call it "There is help", because that suggests we're inviting people to turn to us for help. And there are some kinds of help that random users here can't reasonably be expected to provide. Let's not encourage the expectation.

Call it "Ear Me" or whatever - it's a lot more reasonable to think random users here can lend an ear, listen kindly, etc.

I am happy to talk very openly with people about and try to provide resources for the following topics:

I think that's a good way of putting it.

I might also consider adding grief/bereavement to the list of topics.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:05 PM on July 25, 2011 [16 favorites]


Hee! I like Ear Me!

Ok, further from my friend is a link to Psych Central Forums, which is moderated by professionals. I'll add this to the wiki page as well.
posted by lysdexic at 2:09 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's the "I am in danger/crisis" framing that is the stumbling block, to echo hermitosis. It seems more like "I am having a really hard time" ought to be the encouraged framework. It's certainly possible to be having a really hard time without necessarily being in danger/crisis, and I don't think there are as many ethical or urgency issues in that framing.
posted by Errant at 2:10 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


hermitosis: "I think this is something that will work better the more "crisis" is taken out of the equation.

Agreed.

I think that the trick of setting this up as a support network is to make it very clear what sort of "help" is available and what isn't. "

Which is what I was trying to say earlier. Thank you for putting it so much more clearly.
posted by zarq at 2:15 PM on July 25, 2011


It seems like the better is being the enemy of the good. Since we can't guarantee good help or good advice, we shouldn't even attempt to do something positive?

More like: First, do no harm.
posted by smackfu at 2:15 PM on July 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


I profoundly do not get the objections to this idea. It seems like the better is being the enemy of the good. Since we can't guarantee good help or good advice, we shouldn't even attempt to do something positive? Is that really what people are saying? How is it better to make no effort at all?

I think the sentiment is laudable, but putting it into practice could be, in a small number of cases, outright dangerous. I profoundly do not get how people aren't seeing this being a problem!

I think it's the "I am in danger/crisis" framing that is the stumbling block, to echo hermitosis. It seems more like "I am having a really hard time" ought to be the encouraged framework.

But people who report that they're having a really hard time might in fact be in immediate danger of harming themselves, and a kindly MeFite communicating via text without any training is unlikely to spot the difference, or know what to say if they do.
posted by jack_mo at 2:16 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I understand that you're concerned that an actively suicidal person won't get the help they need from this, but why are you so sure that's worse than the alternative? I think someone reaching out to an internet stranger is not likely to have better sources of help, so the most likely alternative is that they have no options at all. "First, do no harm" is a nice principle that does not work well when taken to the extreme. You're turning it into "first, do nothing" because you want it to mean "first, take no risks."
posted by prefpara at 2:19 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love love love EarMe!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:20 PM on July 25, 2011


"Hee! I like Ear Me!"

The service I worked for was called E.A.R.S. - Empathy, Assistance, and Referral Service. (Referral was a big part of that, when the problem was too big for us.)

Opinions are going to vary on whether or not this would have helped Bill, but I agree that the farther we stay away from suicide/crisis on this, the better. I like the idea of coming up for another name for it, too; "There Is Help" sounds a bit last-ditch to me. This sounds like a first line of defense, not a last one. I dunno, "Talk to Me"?

And I am still available for suicide/crisis, for anyone who needs it. It's a hell of a place to be on your own.
posted by Eideteker at 2:22 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps if someone could point or link to similar model of the proposed framework that has been successful, that would a lot of worries to rest.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:23 PM on July 25, 2011


I would propose the following expansion of this feature:

Instead of just indicating which category we'd be willing to talk about, perhaps users should also be given the ability to indicate that one has survived/lived with each of the categories, and that one has some expert training in helping people survive/live with each of the categories:
- Substance Abuse (alcohol, drugs, addictions)
- Rape/Harassment/Domestic Abuse
- Mental Health Issues (anxiety, depression, therapy)
- GLBTQ concerns

Of course, this would be entirely self-reported, and not subject to mod verification, and you'd probably want to add a caveat to that effect that no user has necessarily lived through or been trained for anything they may say they are.

In case that was incoherent, here's an example profile indication (not reflecting what I personally would choose)

I am available to talk about
- Substance Abuse
- Mental Health Issues
- GLBTQ concerns
I have survived/lived with
- Rape/Harassment/Domestic Abuse
- GLBTQ concerns
I have some expert training in helping people deal with
- Substance Abuse

I think that would be helpful.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:27 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're turning it into "first, do nothing"

In the case of someone who's suicidal or seriously mentally ill, I think it's very reasonable to think this system could harm them more than the response they would get if they posted in AskMe -- if their post were allowed to stand -- which would be ten or more people all saying "call the suicide hotline. here is the number. you are a worthwhile person, we are all pulling for you, it can get better, but you need to call the suicide hotline right now." In the case of someone who seems from their writing to be delusional, the question would normally be deleted. I think those are good policies, because those kinds of cases are way above Askme's ability to handle well and the consequences of screwing them up could be terrible, as many have pointed out above.

I agree that such cases are a serious possibility that we should have a thoughtful policy about if there is going to be any system that encourages private advice-giving interaction with those two categories of user.

Another case to think about is a user who, for example, thinks that all modern medications are suspect and instead we should treat all medical problems with diet -- or whatever you regard as pseudo-scientific bad advice. If someone like that signs up to give advice about mental illness, would they encourage people to stop taking their meds? (etc) In AskMe there is crowd-based correction, which is imperfect but at least cuts down on the worst of the crackpottery. But in private communication, no such check.

If this quasi-official system is going up, we should think about a way to handle/minimize the potential bad cases.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:29 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I understand that you're concerned that an actively suicidal person won't get the help they need from this, but why are you so sure that's worse than the alternative? I think someone reaching out to an internet stranger is not likely to have better sources of help, so the most likely alternative is that they have no options at all.

Or, they might reach out to this lovely community they belong to before seeking out a friend/family member, because it's easier to talk about this stuff with strangers.

If that stranger says, 'Yeah, you sound a bit down. You need a good nights sleep, and should maybe think about making an appointment with your GP', that might be great advice, and lead to the depressed person seeking the help they need. Or, it could make the depressed person think 'God, I can't even ask for help properly or express the pain I'm in, this confirms that I'm worthless and should kill myself.'

I just don't think the potential benefits to people in a bit of a funk outweigh the risks of real harm to people with full-blown depression.
posted by jack_mo at 2:31 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I understand that you're concerned that an actively suicidal person won't get the help they need from this, but why are you so sure that's worse than the alternative?

I'm not a professional, but before I could become a crisis volunteer whose main function was active listening and options counseling, I had to go through forty hours of training. That training showed us how to listen the right way. It showed us that saying things even with the best of intentions can actually do harm. We talked about a lot of examples and the consequences.

I thought I didn't need training because I was so dedicated to the program when I started. I was convinced the training was necessary by the time I finished. Active listening is a skill that goes against intuition in so many ways.

One has to learn how to listen to someone in need and how to lay out options. In my case, my training required us not to share personal information with the people we counseled. I have no idea if the model proposed here is ethical in the larger social work world, but I do know that it goes against everything I learned about active listening. So I agree that this is not a workable plan.
posted by vincele at 2:32 PM on July 25, 2011 [17 favorites]


I'm pretty deeply ambivalent about this.

I think if you do go ahead with this, it will be important to make a policy about what happens when people who are in crisis do use it (because they will, however much they are encouraged not to). For instance, you could ask that when a helper encounters someone who's talking about hurting themselves or others* they contact a mod, and that mod can help direct a user towards "real world" help - hotlines, local therapists, emergency rooms, etc.

I think it's also important that anyone signing up to be a helper be at least asked to read some training materials about how to deal with these kinds of situations. Perhaps the self-moderating aspects of the Metafilter community could be useful here, if there's a public forum for potential helpers to discuss issues that might arise, worries they have, obviously in the general sense, not the specific. I've had experiences, not on metafilter but elsewhere on the web, where over time a friend went from wanting to talk about feeling lonely to being suicidal and I felt helpless to do anything about it (since I had no contact information for them). I think this stuff will inevitably come up. How do you deal with it?

If no one in real crisis ever uses this service, I think it will be great - but realistically there will be people who need more help than we can give them. The question is whether we can do enough to handle those situations that overall the effort is worthwhile.
posted by danceswithanonymity at 2:32 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


--Perhaps if someone could point or link to similar model of the proposed framework that has been successful, that would [put] a lot of worries to rest.--

Nope. Nothing will beyond realising how more important it is to take heed of that first, do no harm motto. And doing no harm here is to leave the status quo largely as-is.

I do like the wiki page however.
posted by peacay at 2:33 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just don't think the potential benefits to people in a bit of a funk outweigh the risks of real harm to people with full-blown depression.

You seem to assume that if metafilter wasn't available the truly depressed would just sit there in stasis. How is potentially bad advice from metafilter any worse than the potentially bad advice this person could get from real-life friends and family?
posted by nomisxid at 2:36 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


But people who report that they're having a really hard time might in fact be in immediate danger of harming themselves, and a kindly MeFite communicating via text without any training is unlikely to spot the difference, or know what to say if they do.

Yes, this is of course true. But, functionally, there doesn't seem to be any difference between the reporting person talking to an untrained MeFite in this scenario and a reporting person talking to an untrained friend, the latter being equally unlikely to spot differences or know what the right things to do are. I don't think we would hold said friend in the same jeopardy as we seem to be assigning to our hypothetical MeFite.

I think that so long as we de-emphasize "this is a resource for when you are in crisis" and in fact say "this isn't a crisis resource, that's what the crisis hotlines are for", we can minimize the risk of your scenario occurring. Beyond that, though, talking to people in trouble is a potentially fraught endeavor. If it wasn't, they wouldn't be in trouble. That's not, to my mind, a very good reason to avoid all untrained contact with those people.

The mods delete AskMes that are "I am suicidal, please help" for basically the same reason, although I believe they follow up with local resource links and that sort of thing. I don't think this system works with the default sense of, "If you're suicidal, don't post an AskMe, go to ThereIsHelp instead". I don't think that's tenable. But outside of the "obvious crisis" range, I think that people can opt-in to be willing ears for others without the jeopardy you're describing.

In fact, many people already do this, seemingly with no community backlash whatsoever. The opposition here seems to be against a mechanism of finding those people more easily. I think that's the part I don't quite get; do you also have these objections when MeFites put in their profile that they're available to talk about x, y, z issues?
posted by Errant at 2:37 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two cents:

I love the spirit of this. It reinforces the notion that for a lot of the frequent users here, this isn't a "website" -- it's a community.

I can see some potential pitfalls, though, which I'll mention not in order to crab about the idea, but to just get them out in the open.

There's been a lot of discussion above about the possibility of someone giving bad or dangerous advice. While I think that's valid to some degree, I actually worry more about the opposite outcome -- the listener who won't listen even to good advice. How many times do we see it in AskMe -- there's hands-down consensus that no, you really shouldn't continue your relationship with the person who subjects you to [X/Y/Z], and that it could be putting you in a harmful situation. But sometimes people hear only what they want to hear. In an EarMe scenario, that puts the advisor in a pretty untenable position. They've done their best to provide a) a friendly ear and offer b) rational counsel, but then they're finding that c) the person isn't going to do anything to change the situation. But now there's someone else involved, and with that involvement comes a certain kind of responsibility.

What kind of mechanism would be in place for the advisor to report what they sense to be a potentially dangerous situation (say, someone who sounds depressed enough to be suicidal)? Do they go to the mods? But then that's a violation of privacy. And what if the situation isn't really as dire as it sounds via MeMail, but others do get involved? Now we've got an escalated situation, the person needing help feels like the whole thing has been blown out of proportion, retreats away from having asked for help in the first place, and vows to never do THAT again. Or what if the situation is more dire than it sounds? What if the asker gets breezy advice from a MeFite, when they really want to be referred to a hospital or a suicide hotline or something. There's just no way of knowing how these things will play out, and having even one interaction goes bad seems like reason enough to be very, very wary of opening this door.

Another thing: I have no way of figuring a percentage, but it seems to me that a very big proportion of people who ask medical/mental health questions on AskMe are either uninsured or underinsured. They absolutely deserve access to services they can afford -- everyone agrees on that. And while this service wouldn't be offered as a substitute for the actual services of a professional, that doesn't mean that people won't use it that way. There are people in AskMe who are desperate for help. We see them on a weekly basis. Despite all admonitions to the contrary, they might contact a MeFite first. When that MeFite tells them to contact a mental health professional (a position that no one here should be in, I might add), what if they don't? Now we have a whole new ballgame, and the stakes are really high.

Like I said, I love the idea. I worry about it, though. I wouldn't worry as MUCH if Metafilter weren't such a helpful community. But the fact that it is so helpful, and is so happy to help solve other people's problems, makes me think that having an official branch that's basically HEY LET US HELP YOU SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS is a very bad idea. And again, as much as you try to frame it otherwise, I think that's how people will approach it.

Love,
mudpuppie
posted by mudpuppie at 2:40 PM on July 25, 2011


I do like the wiki page however.

I want to echo peacay here. The wiki page is an invaluable resource. I use it frequently for other things I'm involved in.

The wiki page is the community at its best and I am very thankful to its creators and caretakers.
posted by vincele at 2:41 PM on July 25, 2011


googly writes "Could the list display other user information to help people decide on whom to contact (age/gender/location seem like some obvious ones, perhaps there is more)"

Be aware that many people are reluctant to divulge this information. For the same reason requiring ThereIsHelpers to provide information for follow up services is going to be problematic as it's going to require location information from both parties. And users not in the US are going to have trouble providing or being able to receive location appropriate information.

elizardbits writes "The thought of shitty advice (deliberate or well-meaning but ultimately flawed) given to a person (who is already in an uncertain emotional/mental state) privately and with no oversight makes me a little nervous."

I see the concern but this is no different than real life. I admit I'm really torn. Is worth the risk of say pushing one person to suicide if the service can help a 100 other people. Even the effectiveness would be hard to measure. It's pretty easy to track suicides but prevented suicides are essentially uncountable.

Cygnet writes "For many years during college, I lived in a co-op of roughly 30 graduate and undergraduate students. Of course each student had their roles to play within the co-op. I held the elected position of 'Ear' for a few years. An 'Ear' was a person who anybody could talk to, any time, about anything. The Ear promised to listen, day or night, without judgment. The Ear did NOT promise to fix problems, know what the right course of action was, or provide wise advice. Of course, as Ear, I tried to be helpful, as much as possible, and many of the others that were elected as Ears over the years also tried. But the Ears" only obligation was to listen."

Sounds like The Shockwave Rider's Hearing Aid. It's a brilliant concept.

jack_mo writes "I think the sentiment is laudable, but putting it into practice could be, in a small number of cases, outright dangerous. I profoundly do not get how people aren't seeing this being a problem!"

The reality is that practically all AskMe questions already have this risk. Down right dangerous advice, advice that has a good chance of killing someone, is regularly posted to AskMe. I think everyone sees this reality but think the benefits outweigh the risks.
posted by Mitheral at 2:41 PM on July 25, 2011


Do they go to the mods? But then that's a violation of privacy.

I don't think there is any interaction anywhere on the site where users feel like they are entitled to total privacy from the moderators.
posted by hermitosis at 2:42 PM on July 25, 2011


Just thought of a possible alternative, but I don't know that it's even technically possible.

In posting an AskMe answer, what if the answer-er could tick a box that says "I know something about this, and I'm willing to be contacted by the Asker and have a dialogue with them about this topic."

That does two things: It puts the question on record on AskMe so that others know about the issue and can at least monitor it (thus not leaving some random mefite as the only one in the world who knows about this person's problem -- a very lonely place to be). It also allows the answerer to opt in to discussing a very specific problem, rather than just a general question about, say, LBGT issues.

I mean, I'd be happy to discuss coming out as a gay girl in Texas with anyone who finds themselves in the position. I have no expertise whatsoever, though, it coming out in an Orthodox Jewish family, or telling your parents that you're transgender.

Keeping it specific to the question would make it a lot more useful, and would allow the answerer to specifically opt in.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:46 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


You seem to assume that if metafilter wasn't available the truly depressed would just sit there in stasis. How is potentially bad advice from metafilter any worse than the potentially bad advice this person could get from real-life friends and family?

No, I was saying that people might well turn to MeFi first, instead of talking to a professional, friend or family member. A chat with a MeFite is probably better than sitting alone with no one to turn to. But I'd argue that advice from an untrained MeFite, who doesn't know the depressed person, with text-only communication is pretty much guaranteed to be less useful than even the crappiest of face-to-face interactions.

Adding a new channel for potentially poor advice just seems irresponsible.

If this quasi-official system is going up, we should think about a way to handle/minimize the potential bad cases.

How is it even possible to 'handle' a case where someone commits suicide and when the body is found, their laptop is open to a page on MeFi where a random member had dispensed some well-meaning platitudes and signed off with a cheery 'Good luck!'.

The reality is that practically all AskMe questions already have this risk. Down right dangerous advice, advice that has a good chance of killing someone, is regularly posted to AskMe. I think everyone sees this reality but think the benefits outweigh the risks.

But, as others have said, when terrible advice is given on AskMe, we can all see it and correct it.
posted by jack_mo at 2:48 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think there is any interaction anywhere on the site where users feel like they are entitled to total privacy from the moderators.
posted by hermitosis at 2:42 PM on July 25 [+] [!]


But it needs to be spelled out what can/should be passed along and what shouldn't. I write to you because I had risky sex last month and contracted an STD but can't afford to get it treated, and now I have someone new and am planning on sleeping with them? Horrible situation. But are you going to go to the mods and say, "Hey, mudpuppie's spreading herpes!"

What if I tell you that my partner and I split up and I'm really down about it. And you tell me that it's going to be okay. I silently nod and say, "You're right!" and I'm fine with it. But then I go on the camping trip I've been planning for months and have no internet access for a week. When you don't hear back from me, you tell the mods that maybe I've offed myself. What do they do then. Try to track down my parents by getting my surname off my PayPal record? Notify my local police? When really, this whole time I've just been sleeping in a tent....

I just think the scenarios need to be thought through fully. There need to be guidelines for what to move up the chain, and it needs to be transparent what will happen from there.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:53 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't see why all the ambivalence. As long as it is very, very clear that this is NOT an emergency mechanism, and NOT meant to be the first place anyone goes in crisis, why does anyone need special training to talk with others about problems they share? I don't see anything in the description that suggests to me that anyone will be portrayed as a trained expert, only as an individual who's had some experience with a given topic. Approach for conversation or advice at your own risk.
posted by namesarehard at 2:54 PM on July 25, 2011


advice from an untrained MeFite, who doesn't know the depressed person, with text-only communication is pretty much guaranteed to be less useful than even the crappiest of face-to-face interactions.

Speaking as someone who has had some pretty horrific interactions with professionals (see my comments in the Bill Zeller thread for details), that's one heck of a guarantee. Got anything to back it up?
posted by Gator at 2:56 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Although this is inspired by Bill Zeller, the thought of opening a MeMail containing anything like his description of his situation is enough to make me never sign up for this. Of course he deserved help, but I could never confidently say to metafilter at large that I'm available to give it.
posted by that's how you get ants at 2:56 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't think there is any interaction anywhere on the site where users feel like they are entitled to total privacy from the moderators.

Anonymous AskMes are functionally anonymous even to the mods, no? The usual explanation when that comes up is that yes, the mods could find out who an anonymous OP is, but it would require some reasonably convoluted detective work on their parts.

(Which again brings me back to anonymous followups to anonymous AskMes -- there is an informal "email it to a moderator" mechanism here for anonymous OPs to add followup information, but it necessarily requires the OP to out themselves to a moderator.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:58 PM on July 25, 2011


I agree that it needs to be framed in a way that does not at all give the impression that this is about any kind of formal or professional help in a crisis. I think it's best to make the primary focus on "listening," with anything about advice being secondary. Along the lines of EarMe, etc, as a title, and careful thought given to all explanatory text.

Also, logistically, to make this useful I really think there needs to be an open-text field associated with this feature where people can explain in more depth what they're willing to talk about-- to keep them from getting swamped with questions out of their comfort zone/expertise (which they may feel obligated to try to answer anyway, which isn't a great thing for anyone, and may dissuade people from participating) and to help users figure out who to reach out to who'll be most helpful to them. So you could click on the LGBT section, and the list of users would include X characters of their free-text area so you could scroll or search to see who's willing to talk about trans issues specifically, for example. Or in the mental health section, you can see whether someone's willing to talk about "my experience coping with my anxiety disorder" or "dealing with my child's bipolar" or whatever. (Mental health stuff makes this particularly clear-- if there's no specificity, does anyone who clicks that box feel like they're opening themselves up to being a suicide hotline? How many people would avoid it because they don't want to deal with that, even though they have really valuable stuff to share on other issues?)

If there's nothing beyond really broad categories, I'd be hesitant to use it both from a user and a "listener" perspective-- as a user, because I'd be reluctant to click on a random name having no idea if this person has anything to contribute that's relevant to my particular issues, and as a "listener," because I'm nervous about what kind of random requests I might get and how to cope with them. And I doubt I'd be the only one.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 3:09 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


jack_mo: "But I'd argue that advice from an untrained MeFite, who doesn't know the depressed person, with text-only communication is pretty much guaranteed to be less useful than even the crappiest of face-to-face interactions."

As someone who is quite introverted and often has difficulty speaking face to face with people I don't know about personal matters, I disagree. Hell, I sometimes have difficulty speaking about private matters with friends face to face. For someone like me, discussing problems through written media allows me to say things I wouldn't aloud. It establishes a buffer -- a distance that can be invaluable.

Some of the topics being proposed for discussion are stigmatized, personal, intimate and difficult to speak about. Sexual and domestic abuse. Harassment. Depression. If someone would like to talk about any of those things with someone who has survived similar experiences, lowering the communication barrier isn't a bad thing. And we should not automatically assume that it will be damaging.

Perceived and actual stigmas are powerful demotivators.
posted by zarq at 3:21 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


In posting an AskMe answer, what if the answer-er could tick a box that says "I know something about this, and I'm willing to be contacted by the Asker and have a dialogue with them about this topic."

I was just going to suggest the same thing. It would be a good reminder for those who often do that, but not always, and maybe a spur to others who hadn't thought of it. There might even be some ways to aggregate the information, to see people who have offered help on questions related to the one you want to ask.

(Instinctively, I want to believe this - ThereIsHelp - is a good idea. But reading the commentary, especially from people with mental health care/crisis line experience, makes me somewhat concerned.)
posted by epersonae at 3:22 PM on July 25, 2011


Speaking as someone who has had some pretty horrific interactions with professionals (see my comments in the Bill Zeller thread for details), that's one heck of a guarantee. Got anything to back it up?

Yeah, I've had some spectacularly poor dealings with mental health professionals too. 'Guarantee' was too strong a word.

The reason I place value on face to face interaction is that, well, on MeFi someone might type 'Thanks for the advice, I'm feeling a bit better now' while crying their eyes out and shaking uncontrollably. Even a rubbish doctor or unsympathetic friend in that situation is better able to gauge what's going on than a MeFite on the other side of a screen.

Regardless of the failings of doctors, helpline operators, &c., I definitely think that introducing a way for people in trouble to get advice from people who lack training, are unlikely to be able to see signs of a real problem, or know the best course of action in a dangerous situation is... a really, really bad idea.

As was discussed in the Bill Zeller thread, if you have mental health problems you have to put a lot of effort into getting help, in terms of plucking up the courage to ask for help in the first place, persevering in asking for help after bad experiences with doctors, &c..

My worry is that a depressed person will expend the huge amount of energy required to seek help and turn to MeFi as their first port of call, delaying the opportunity to get proper help.
posted by jack_mo at 3:32 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this is a bad idea. I think it is so bad that I will, right here, make a standing offer to assist anyone who is harmed by this to obtain pro bono legal help as recourse, after they are harmed. Just MeMail this account.

There will be harm. No question about that.

In most US states, licensure is required to offer substance abuse counseling; offering mental health counseling requires a license in all 50 states. There are good reasons for those laws.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 3:33 PM on July 25, 2011


Since this thread isn't to decide whether but how this will be done, I think Cygnet's model (A helper's only obligation is to listen) could be a workable service to the community. I'm just not seeing other solutions as anything but fraught with difficulty and more headaches (and possibly liability) for the mods. I love the idea of Mefites helping Mefites but the clearer we are about the type of help we can realistically provide, the better off we'll be. I'm glad something positive is coming of Bill's memory, but let's tread lightly here.
posted by Space Kitty at 3:39 PM on July 25, 2011


licensure is required

This idea isn't to offer counseling in any way, shape, or form. It isn't even formal enough to offer advice. It's just a way users can make it clear they volunteer to talk and listen to others about issues. I don't think that puts the site in any legal jeopardy and I don't think the members offering to listen would be legally actionable in any normal circumstances. It's not a claim for counseling, hopefully if someone hears a story from another that is serious, they would direct that user to real, actual, licensed help.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:40 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've only read the first 30 or so comments here, so I'm not sure of the arc of the later part of the thread, but wanted to at least speak now, and go back and read.

- Does this sound about right?

It sounds like a great start. There are unkown potential pitfalls, but they can be dealt with as they become known.

- Is there a huge flaw that would keep you from using this, if you are the sort of person who is interested in this feature?

Not that I can see, for me personally, and I am the sort of person who is interested in this feature. So if you're looking for a critical mass, add my name to the pile of people willing to give it a go.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:41 PM on July 25, 2011


I share the young rope rider's and jack_mo's and others' concerns.

That said, I think these concerns are speaking to a scenario about two feet to the left of what is actually being proposed, which makes it clear that the framing needs work. This isn't about counseling per se, not even about advice, it's about offering a safe space, like you see on pretty much every college campus these days for glbt (on preview, mathowie has just said this). Kids in those programs aren't licensed. However, they do receive training on how to listen, and equally important, how to refer people who come to them to people who ARE licensed or otherwise have the capacity to help. I don't see this working without some similar resources provided to those who sign up.

My only concrete suggestion: lose "ThereIsHelp." What about "ThereIsLove"?
posted by solotoro at 3:43 PM on July 25, 2011


This idea isn't to offer counseling in any way, shape, or form. It isn't even formal enough to offer advice.

Do you seriously believe people won't take it upon themselves to do both of these? Look at any given AskMe -- many answerers are 100% sure that, based on however much or little expertise or anecsperience they have, they know what the asker should do.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:48 PM on July 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


hopefully if someone hears a story from another that is serious, they would direct that user to real, actual, licensed help.

I agree. I think anybody that signs up needs to make sure they have information at the ready to be able to direct people to. I saw ArmyOfKittens message above that it would be hard in some situations. Understood, but in a lot of situations there are established places to go to talked to people who have been trained to help above and beyond what the average user can deal with. I just think it's a good idea handy, since we have professionals in here talking about how even they get overwhelmed with these situations.

Even that is kind of problematic because now you're basically functioning as someone who is assessing someone. Someone contacts you and says they have been thinking about hurting themselves and set their electric to turn off, sold furniture and figured out what to do with the cat. Would kokobean16 know if that is a warning sign or not of someone who is at higher risk to commit suicide, and thus they should get the person to a professional? Maybe. Maybe not.

I think you have to go full scale with it(training and all), or go zero with it(completely bare bones).
posted by cashman at 3:57 PM on July 25, 2011


I've read this thread, I'm one of the people who have found the wiki to be useful and I too am concerned with one on one talking. One of the good things about askme is you get a variety of opinions and a mass consensus. You also don't have one person taking the burden of someone's despair. I think a forum would be better, and I don't think metafilter is ever going to put together a forum (though I personally would love to chat off topic with other members).

For example, I have problems with family members, I'm estranged from some. If I were contacted about someone's issue with their family, my experiences would colour my conversation with them in a way that may well be inappropriate. In a thread, that is mitigated by other people coming up with solutions for mediation. Or, if I were in a down period, I might inadvertently worsen the other person's mood by agreeing that life is shit, and it's hard to go on. If I were up, and actively helping someone, their ongoing need and reliance on me could well be difficult to maintain. Suddenly withdrawing my support and compassion may have a significant negative influence.

I love this community. I love the way people here care about each other, even if they have had no contact previously. I don't think private conversations about depression is the way to go, but I truly admire the mods and the community for looking for a way to help each other.

Regarding tagging members within thread, people still have the option to respond to an askme with memail me, it doesn't need formalisation.
posted by b33j at 3:59 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not a claim for counseling, hopefully if someone hears a story from another that is serious, they would direct that user to real, actual, licensed help.

But what if the story doesn't sound serious to the person listening, or the person telling the story can't get across how serious their problem is?

That said, I think these concerns are speaking to a scenario about two feet to the left of what is actually being proposed, which makes it clear that the framing needs work.

Whatever the framing, as I've said, it's not exactly a secret that people with mental health issues can have trouble expressing the severity of their symptoms, or accurately reporting them, and can respond in irrational ways to advice. Random helpful MeFites might not even know that this is the case, let alone have the ability to tell that someone who seems a wee bit depressed might in fact be suffering severely, or know how to react if someone responds bizarrely to advice.
posted by jack_mo at 4:02 PM on July 25, 2011


This idea isn't to offer counseling in any way, shape, or form. It isn't even formal enough to offer advice.


The concept was presented as one-on-one "help" for those who are "in danger/crisis" about depression or substance abuse, among other things. The distinction between that and counselling or advice seems pretty negligible.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:02 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Not that I'm opposed to the idea. As suggested above, it sounds like something that might be beneficial in 99% of cases and harmful in 1%. Who can tell if that is worth the trade off?)
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:06 PM on July 25, 2011


-1
posted by Skorgu at 4:12 PM on July 25, 2011


hopefully if someone hears a story from another that is serious, they would direct that user to real, actual, licensed help.

Hopefully is the key word here. I've helped train crisis call volunteers, and 40 hours of training just in active listening is typical, I'd dare to say. But referrals? That is HUGE. How is are people who sign up for this supposed to know who to refer to?

As to the idea that a disclaimer will make it clear that this is not any sort of crisis situation, the fact is that people will still use it that way. So there we go again, with a bunch of untrained (though awesomely well-intentioned) people who will be in over their heads. Which can actively cause harm.

Basically, I'm with all the others who say this is a bad idea coming from very good intentions.
posted by Stewriffic at 4:14 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's not a claim for counseling, hopefully if someone hears a story from another that is serious, they would direct that user to real, actual, licensed help.

Also, in this context, 'hopefully' isn't bloody good enough. I can't see how you could possibly turn that into a 'definitely', and even if you could, how do you ensure that a user would be directed to real, actual help and not, I dunno, an acupuncturist or sage-burning faith healer?
posted by jack_mo at 4:18 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


ThereAreHugs.
posted by flabdablet at 4:19 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I continue to feel that this thread breaks my brain. How is this different from the real world? You know what I do when I have a problem? I talk to a friend about it. Sirens do not go off and my friend is not subsequently sued for malpractice. It is not a disaster when I do this. The overwhelming majority of the time, people reach out to other people. The fact that it might happen online and not over a phone or whatever is just not that significant.
posted by prefpara at 4:19 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


How do you ensure that a user is directed to real, actual help and not, I dunno, an acupuncturist or sage-burning faith healer, jack_mo? By closing off an avenue of listening and doing nothing else?
posted by prefpara at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2011


I think it is so bad that I will, right here, make a standing offer to assist anyone who is harmed by this to obtain pro bono legal help as recourse, after they are harmed. Just MeMail this account.

If this is an actual threat against the site, please do let us know. We loosely ascribe to the Wikipedia model where if you are actively engaging or threatening to engage in legal action against the site, we'd prefer that you were not a member. You can deal with this by leaving the site or making it clear that this is not what you're doing. I'd appreciate not having to have this discussion personally but that's a fairly serious threat, to my mind.

As I said above, we're backing off on the "in crisis" language and a few other things that seem to be problematic here. People are already using AskMe and other less formal options for this sort of thing. I know there are some people who are actively opposed to this, I'd appreciate if they could work with us to find a way to make this work legitimately [and yeah the same way that having a little "safe space" or whatever sticker on your door works not as an "I am a counselor"]. Is there a way saying "I'm available to talk about anxiety issues and/or drunk parents" note on your profile would?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


People already can mail users whose posting histories suggest that they may have something to offer on any given topic. I don't see how a "feel free to mail me about (X)" indicator is such a radical departure from what already exists.
posted by Wordwoman at 4:24 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This idea isn't to offer counseling in any way, shape, or form. It isn't even formal enough to offer advice.

If you are interested in learning about the caselaw involving media companies offering and giving one-on-one mental health advice, the relevant LEXIS search term is "sob sister."
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 4:28 PM on July 25, 2011


--I don't see how a "feel free to mail me about (X)" indicator is such a radical departure from what already exists.--

Well this is giving it formal structure and, despite any caveats to the contrary, is being organised and more than tacitly sanctioned by the moderators and owner of the site which, to me, elevates this to provision of a service.
posted by peacay at 4:28 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry: In most US states, licensure is required to offer substance abuse counseling; offering mental health counseling requires a license in all 50 states. There are good reasons for those laws.

But people talk, and offer advice and thoughts to each-other every day. People ask questions to people on the internet, and get all sorts of replies. This seems to be another form of people talking, not Official Counseling. And are help lines staffed by licensed individuals? I ask because I do not know.

Wordwoman, I'm sure people (myself included) are daunted to contact people about sensitive, emotional topics, especially when they're personal like nothing else. People offer when they feel comfortable to do so. Asking a stranger directly is different. Having a stranger wear a button saying "you can approach me about this" could lower the threshold of discomfort.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:31 PM on July 25, 2011


If this is an actual threat against the site, please do let us know.

I will never take legal action myself against MetaFilter or its principals.

I would like people who suffer harm and can't afford a lawyer to know that "there is help," that's all.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 4:31 PM on July 25, 2011


I continue to feel that this thread breaks my brain. How is this different from the real world?

Your brain does seem a little broken, going by your responses in this thread. Either that or you haven't put a good faith effort into understanding the concerns raised here. There is a big difference between people reaching out to others, as people already do through multiple ways in this thread, and setting up a semi-official method whereby people in crisis* seek semi-official help mediated** by the site. Your characterization of those who have concerns about this as folks who would rather see others suffer makes me unsympathetic to your problems understanding the basic distinction under discussion.

* I understand that the framing will change on this issue, but the spirit of this, as I understand it, brought out of the Bill Zeller thread, makes the shadow of that frame loom large.

** Part of the issue here is the middle ground of mediation that it being proposed. It will be a function of the site, but it won't be overseen or supervised in any way.
posted by OmieWise at 4:32 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would like people who suffer harm and can't afford a lawyer to know that "there is help," that's all.

Dude, this is pretty much a shit-or-get-off-the-pot thing. Make up your mind whether you're fucking around rhetorically to make a point with a sockpuppet account or whether you're specifically trying to position yourself as The Guy Who Will Help You Sue Metafilter, and make that clear right here and now.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:35 PM on July 25, 2011 [14 favorites]


Wouldn't most of the concerns here be alleviated by putting in big bold letters somewhere near this thing that

"YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD PROBABLY SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP, BEFORE SEEKING INTERNET STRANGER HELP, RIGHT? IF YOU'RE SURE YOU WANT INTERNET STRANGER HELP (WHICH IS != PROFESSIONAL HELP), CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE."

I don't see the need for it, but would that help the concerned parties get on board with this?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:43 PM on July 25, 2011


And are help lines staffed by licensed individuals? I ask because I do not know.


You have to go through really intensive training to get in a position just to volunteer. It varies by state, I'm sure. The concern is that you'll hurt someone by inadvertently suggesting a course of action that puts them in danger of hurting themself or another person.

I'm only speaking from my experience as a volunteer and knowledge of a couple of states.
posted by vincele at 4:44 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


This idea isn't to offer counseling in any way, shape, or form.

That's not how this works though. I understand the intent but I really think this is a piss poor way of trying to be helpful. I really do feel that this is a terrible idea though I understand where it's coming from. Metafilter loves to be helpful and people love to feel that their experience and advice have value and meaning. It's why Ask.Metafilter works so well. But the other important aspect of it is active moderation and community policing. I can't, for the life of me, wonder why Metafilter (as a business) would want to develop or push a service that specifically removes that critical component from the service.

Safe spaces are created many different ways and that space can also be created by branding. With an individual having a badge, they're inherently going to be given the "metafilter bump." The safe space is created and enhanced by their just being associated with the metafilter brand, metafilter's history, and the perception that some people have of metafilter. It's a very powerful and wonderful thing. But that brand does not necessarily mean that a safe space will actually be created. And that safe space could easily be misused by even the most good intentioned individual. And that's part of the problem with this plan. It relies on the self-selection of an individual to stand up and say "oh yeah, I'm worth talking to" and any branding, by metafilter, just further validates that misguided opinion.

I also am worried about how there's no accountability for volunteers nor system in place to support those volunteers. What happens if a conversation goes bad for the volunteer? Who will be there for them? Who can they round with? And who will be there to keep an eye on the volunteers so that they don't, accidentally, work their own issues out through those who came reaching out to them?
posted by Stynxno at 4:45 PM on July 25, 2011 [32 favorites]


the relevant LEXIS search term is "sob sister."

This brings up nine cases in allfed, none relevant. Because this is a ridiculous concern. You might as well sue me for sitting up with a crying friend.
posted by prefpara at 4:47 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


As someone who has not (yet) needed to reach out to others for help through a traumatic event or difficult times, I can only guess at what it would be like to try and find help from the world at large. Ask Metafilter offers a venue for inquiring about nearly anything, including inquiries by people in crisis, but you have to post your issues into the public realm, or make your situation vague enough to hide. Most answers are public, allowing for some agreements and counter-suggestions, but no one here is vetted beyond by their peers. Except people use MeMail and throw-away email accounts to discuss sensitive topics in private.

People can follow any advice they find in AskMe, or mash up a bunch of suggestions for their own solution, the same way they can ask on other forums and unverified question-posting sites.

Having a button saying "you can ask me about [x]" changes the dynamic of the discussion, moving what was once (largely) public into a private realm. It becomes more personal and lacks contrary opinions, so it might be more likely that suggestions are followed, increasing the chance for bad advice to be followed. But what is to stop someone from asking multiple people, or having this system post the same question to multiple "helpers" (or whatever ThereIsHelpers would be called)? What is to keep someone from only taking half of the good advice, turning good to bad?

I like this idea, and there are most likely better and worse ways to implement and check up on the system. I think some of the Ask Meta "safety" comes in multiple replies. Some times the answers come back in bunches: the use of chiropractors comes to mind, where "chiropractors are never good" came out heavy at first, followed by positive personal experiences. If only one answer was received, it would be from only one point of view.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:48 PM on July 25, 2011


This is not zero-sum. People can use every resource simultaneously. I can post to ask, call my shrink, and contact someone one-to-one.
posted by prefpara at 4:51 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What happens if a conversation goes bad for the volunteer? Who will be there for them? Who can they round with?

I agree with most of the concerns already mentioned here, but I just want to emphasize this. A while back there was a member who had corresponded with another MeFite who was dealing with mental health issues. Her subsequent death deeply upset him - although he was clearly blameless he felt he could have done something differently or could have done more.

I think this is a terrible idea that comes from the best possible intentions.
posted by lalex at 4:56 PM on July 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


Stynxno: I also am worried about how there's no accountability for volunteers nor system in place to support those volunteers. What happens if a conversation goes bad for the volunteer? Who will be there for them? Who can they round with? And who will be there to keep an eye on the volunteers so that they don't, accidentally, work their own issues out through those who came reaching out to them?

Can't someone who received some concerning disclosure from a friend call a help line, passing along the information of that friend? Yes, it's a literal game of telephone, and the middle-person may end up ferrying messages back and forth, but it may be better than nothing. As for a proper support system, couldn't ThereIsHelpers ask each-other? It ruins the anonymity of the initial contact from User A to User B when User C is involved, but ... OK, I don't know.

It sounds like it could create a burden on the mods, as they're the support system for MetaFilter on the whole. I agree it's not a zero-sum game, and that the threshold for reaching out can be a bit high (especially when you aren't sure what's going on, in so much that you can't post your issues as a clear question, even if you are comfortable posting an anonymous AskMe post), but this sounds like a noble option with the potential for heavy consequences all around. It's done informally now, and maybe it should stay that way.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:59 PM on July 25, 2011


Is there a way saying "I'm available to talk about anxiety issues and/or drunk parents" note on your profile would?

Can't recall if this was mentioned already, but there were some way to search for this or the volunteers, right?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:03 PM on July 25, 2011


The next time someone asks me why people don't talk about things and hold it all inside, or how people can be suffering so invisibly and not feel like there's any hope for them at all, I think I'm just going to point to this thread and let it explain itself.
posted by Errant at 5:04 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a master's degree in clinical psychology, and am working towards my Ph.D. I currently (under supervision) see patients, and have received extensive training in risk management, listening skills, etc. I would like to echo the users who are wary of this idea.

I know that some members have had bad experiences in therapy, or are uninsured and can't afford it. I know that the mods will say in big, bright, flashing letters that this IS NOT THERAPY. But it.....kind of seems like therapy, or that it will be used in that way. I'm concerned about harm to both the seekers and the helpers. Especially the helpers, actually. You've heard of the high rate of burnout in the helping professions, correct? There is a reason people go to school for this, to get training and supervision and help with consultations. Because it's hard work and it can be very draining, and even if this system is explicitly set up as NOT THERAPY and NOT A CRISIS LINE, when you have put up this little icon and someone has reached out to you, there will likely be some feeling of obligation. Even if you are in over your head.

I like that Metafilter is a place where people give and receive (mostly) good advice. This community has stepped up and done amazing things, both collectively and through individual members. People are certainly free to keep reaching out to one another on a case-by-case basis, but I do not think it is wise to formalize that with a little tag that effectively says "I'm open for business!". Just because you have personally experienced X does not mean you are qualified to give advice on all iterations of X, or the side effects of X, or the psychological fallout from X.
posted by Bebo at 5:04 PM on July 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


I love the idea that this a community where people can share experiences and help each other but I also have reservations of how helpful this would be to people with certain types of problems, mental health in particular.

Peoples own biases, from personal experiences, the experiences of they've had with others, and from cultural ideals means that it would be easy for someone to provide advice that is really inappropriate for the person receiving it.

For example the issue of medication can be a touchy one and I would hate to see someone who is struggling with mental illness end up talking to someone who is vehemently against it for personal reasons. I also worry that this would lead to people searching out helpers who express opinions they agree with (through looking at posting histories) whose ideas may not be appropriate for their particular circumstances.

Obviously not all subjects are as touchy but I think its hard to define limits as to whats ok to talk about and also to what degree a person helping would be available.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:05 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


As nice as this idea sounds, I have some concerns about it. I think it's a bit of knee jerk response to that feeling of futility when something terrible happens and we start to question if there was something we could have done.

Over the years there has been some really bad advice given in earnest & with all the best of intentions. Thankfully due to the nature of AskMe, bad advice gets called out discussed and is also mitigated by all of the good advice.

Offering counselling/advice should really not be done by untrained people or without adequate supervision & support, regardless of how expert life experience has made someone in a particular field. While this idea may work out beautifully for some participants, I think it leaves many more open to much more than anyone may bargain for, and my ethics alarm bells are starting to chime.

I think this idea is not a good idea.
posted by goshling at 5:06 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think instead of a "ThereIsHelp" badge on user profiles, there should be a "Tea And Sympathy" badge or an "I'll Listen" badge. Or an "I Have A Shoulder, You May Cry On It" badge.

I fear that being seen to offer "help" could land someone or the site as a whole in a legal morass, but offering a sympathetic ear may not.

It's also disgusting to see good intentions waver in the face of vague threats of legal action, especially when that action is cloaked in the rhetoric of righteousness.

"Nice idea you got there. Hate to see something... happen to it."
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:10 PM on July 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's done informally now

In addition to the visible "you can MeMail me" stuff -- isn't there also some invisible filtering/referral happening, in that the mods gently reject suicidey (and other "not the right forum for this") anonymous AskMes?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:13 PM on July 25, 2011


This idea isn't to offer counseling in any way, shape, or form.

Well it walks a lot like a duck, and seems to be quacking, too... More seriously, you may feel that way, but a grieving family going through a loved ones emails, or a lawyer - or very importantly a court - may not feel that way.

My [limited] knowledge of courts in Australia is that they would see the structure of this, and you would definitely be open to a civil, if not criminal suit. Religious organisations get into trouble for stuff like this all the time over here. I hope you have consulted an experienced lawyer about this.

Beyond the law though, I also echo the moral objections of posters like Omiewise etc. And despite legal concerns, I feel that those concerns are actually more important.

Prepfara, it's all good and dandy to say this happens in real life all the time, but real life is importantly lacking the structures and formality that something like this puts in place, and similarly real life does not come under the aegis of an organisation.

I can't help but feel that at-heart small business nature of Metafilter the company has somewhat blinded you guys (matt, jess, cortex etc) to the realities of this. Large companies have to put exhaustive mental health policies in place for interaction with both employees, customers, and sometimes the general public. Those that offer counselling to employees (like mine) have an extremely rigorous policy in place that is regularly reviewed and vetted by both mental health professionals and lawyers.

They don't just do this to avoid lawsuits, but also because they are not qualified to formulate these policies themselves. The can-do attitiude of mefi and askmefi in particular is great when it's building cabinets and stuff, but this is far more fraught than that. Professionals are professionals for a reason.
posted by smoke at 5:13 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


or whether you're specifically trying to position yourself as The Guy Who Will Help You Sue Metafilter, and make that clear right here and now.

but isn't the advice going to be so great that no one would possibly sue mefi ??


I've looked at the thereishelp list, it looks pretty helpful - i would imagine thats pretty much enough.

This helper system is not going to work, the community is quite clear on that and I hope that Matt is going to listen. It's not going to stop because some nasty bad man made a legal threat either, its going to stop because it is not a healthy idea.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:18 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am more supportive of an "only there to listen" offering than anything help-related. Can we just have a listener badge? Does it need to have a cutesy name? "I am available to listen about: x, y, z." Even then, there are still concerns. The fact of the matter is that you're in some way formalizing this, which, believe it or not, does change things. People see it differently than just reaching out to someone.

"Can't recall if this was mentioned already, but there were some way to search for this or the volunteers, right?"

Yes, also curious about this. If this is meant as an AskMe add-on, well, then I don't think I'll be able to do much helping, since I don't read Ask. And if your counseling experience is pretty much focused on suicide, which is on the very short list of things Ask doesn't do, they're pretty much mutually exclusive.
posted by Eideteker at 5:22 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The next time someone asks me why people don't talk about things and hold it all inside, or how people can be suffering so invisibly and not feel like there's any hope for them at all, I think I'm just going to point to this thread and let it explain itself.

This is by far the shittiest thing written in this thread. You should be ashamed of yourself. Not subscribing to your worldview does not make folks bad people. Not agreeing with you, or this idea, does not reveal darkness in the heart of the dissenters. Maybe if you acted more like an adult people would take your views more seriously.
posted by OmieWise at 5:28 PM on July 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


I know there are some people who are actively opposed to this, I'd appreciate if they could work with us to find a way to make this work legitimately

jessamyn, I really can't see how this can work legitimately when it comes to the (admittedly small) minority of cases where someone with severe mental health problems turns to the service for help.

You've given no indication of how you'd monitor the service, vet and train the people giving advice, nor how you'd usefully react in an emergency situation. Slapping a 'don't use this if you're properly mental' warning on the thing and hoping for the best just doesn't seem like a sensible approach.

"YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD PROBABLY SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP, BEFORE SEEKING INTERNET STRANGER HELP, RIGHT? IF YOU'RE SURE YOU WANT INTERNET STRANGER HELP (WHICH IS != PROFESSIONAL HELP), CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE."

For the umpteenth time, people who need professional help might not think they do, and even if they do might well prefer internet stranger help as a way of avoiding professional help.

How do you ensure that a user is directed to real, actual help and not, I dunno, an acupuncturist or sage-burning faith healer, jack_mo? By closing off an avenue of listening and doing nothing else?

Look, I think the idea of an 'avenue of listening' is lovely, but I would rather a lot of people missed out on the opportunity to talk with a fellow MeFite about their problems if it means preventing a single MeFite with severe mental health issues being put in danger.
posted by jack_mo at 5:28 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


You should be ashamed of yourself.

You need to back off and/or be constructive at this point, please. I'm aware this makes you upset but you are ramping this up to a notch where we'd prefer it did not go.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:30 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I apologize if I am repeating anything that is in this thread already. I like the spirit of the idea, but the implementation seems a little scary to me. A couple things that would make it better to me.

1. Change the name and don't include the word "help" in the name. Something more like lending an ear or something with friend might be more appropriate.
2. Don't create categories of expertise. It's not meant to be professional help. Just a friendly stranger willing to hear you out and offer some reassurance.

I think this would make it more like the participants are opting in to be a friend to someone who needs one, and the people using the service are getting a friend to reach out to when they need one, but nothing more than that.
posted by snofoam at 5:36 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


My [limited] knowledge of courts in Australia

Despite the audacious attempted annexation of the Northwest United States by the Australians, we have managed to repel the invaders and maintain our autonomy.

I'm being completely serious when I say that I'm sure Team Mod have consulted with lawyers and have taken the appropriate steps to protect themselves. They've been doing this for awhile now, so all this questioning whether or not they're opening themselves up for a big legal broadside is a bit insulting.

I'm more concerned with the points ThePinkSuperhero brings up. I hope there's some sort of monitoring process for all this, along with some strict protocols on how to deal with people in distress. I'm sure 99% of cases will resolve themselves and won't be full of drama, but the last 1% ...
posted by geoff. at 5:36 PM on July 25, 2011


Really? It's my comment that gets called out, not the multiple comments basically accusing those of us with the unpopular ideas of wanting people to suffer in silence? I think that's ridiculous. My comments in this thread have been constructive from the start. Why not call out the insulters who have contributed nothing?
posted by OmieWise at 5:38 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why not call out the insulters who have contributed nothing?


um...........because they agree with Jessamyn ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:39 PM on July 25, 2011


Speaking as someone who thinks this is a really bad idea and wishes it wouldn't happen:

We don't have to chew each other's face off over this. Either it'll work out ok or something will go wrong and the mods and/or the community will have to cope with that and move.

If you don't like the idea, you don't have to take part in it. Neither do you have to abuse another member, even if they're being a jackass. Chill out. The US President will be on at 9pm EST to talk about the debt ceiling fight, so I'm gonna go freak out about that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:40 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry if I have inadvertently insulted you, OmieWise. That was not my intention. I feel strongly that all possible avenues of human companionship ought always be opened, and perhaps my strong feelings caused me to phrase my thoughts in an imperfect way.

That said, I stand by the content of what I've said already. I don't see this as somehow eliminating other, better avenues for help. I don't see this as significantly different than the everyday reality of people coming to each other for help without regard to certification or qualification. And the fact that there may be superior counselors out there doesn't mean there's something wrong with regular, non-professional community members advertising that they are open to talking about certain difficult issues.
posted by prefpara at 5:41 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


because they agree with Jessamyn ?

I don't tend to think jessamyn operates that way.
posted by OmieWise at 5:43 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why not call out the insulters who have contributed nothing?

Because taking something from a general to a specifically insulting thing is taking things up a notch and contributing to a situation where people feel personally attacked and/or publicly shamed here in MetaTalk which reduces the utility of MetaTalk. I was hoping to get some input on something we've been working on for a while. It's useful to know exactly how and why people think it's not such a great idea or maybe needs to be rethought. It's profoundly depressing that people treat other people so badly when trying to talk about it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:44 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's profoundly depressing that people treat other people so badly when trying to talk about it.

I don't really personally think the discussion has been characterised by people treating each other badly - I think we're seeing a good dialogue here - and I'm kind of surprised you would think a line like "you should be ashamed of yourself" would be an indicator of that; it's just I've seen your personally let much more emotive discussion slide without comment.
posted by smoke at 5:57 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like this idea and want to be a helper but then I also hesitate to make myself available. I can help with some things, I think, but there are some people who are just so depressed and/or talk so much about suicide that there's nothing I can do for them. I've already had to say "hey Mefite, you're a friend of other Mefite right? Well he's so depressed right now and saying things like 'it's too late, there's nothing left for me' and I don't know what to do." I was just at a loss trying to help this person because he was so severely depressed it was beyond my abilities. Sure, I can tell them to call the suicide hotline but I can't make them.

Also I would have to put a disclaimer on my own profile somewhere that if I think you're in immediate danger of suicide, I *will* call the police. (Or Matt/Jessamyn/Cortex if I don't have your contact info.) I've already called the police on a suicidal internet friend once in my life. She didn't talk to me for 2-3 years but now we're good friends again. I mean it's one thing for my suicidal in-person friend, when she says she's depressed I can drive over to her house and get her. But over the Internet I don't have that ability.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:58 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is by far the shittiest thing written in this thread. You should be ashamed of yourself. Not subscribing to your worldview does not make folks bad people. Not agreeing with you, or this idea, does not reveal darkness in the heart of the dissenters. Maybe if you acted more like an adult people would take your views more seriously.

For a moment I thought this was some kind of dramatic performance to illustrate your point about this being a bad idea: "See what kind of crappy, hurtful things people might say???" I'm having trouble reconciling the fact that you identify yourself as being a professional in this area yet you seem to consider it perfectly acceptable to tell somebody "You should be ashamed of yourself" and that they should act "more like an adult".

When this was first proposed I thought it sounded like an idea with potential and I wanted it to work. I know from experience what it's like to be miserable but think it's possible to keep stumbling on without getting therapy, and I know from experience how difficult it can be to find help, especially if somebody doesn't have health insurance. Now, however, I'm coming to think that it would actually be better to keep things in AskMe where it's possible for other answerers and the mods to keep an eye on what people are saying to each other.
posted by Lexica at 6:00 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is depressing.
posted by Gator at 6:02 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd also note that it's fairly well documented that lack of a social support network is a risk factor for suicide. Professional therapy and prescriptions are one important part of a preventative system. Social support is another important part - this seems like an excellent way to expand MeFites' social support network. It doesn't have to be one or the other. More importantly it shouldn't be!

Also, has anyone ever seen an askme thread that indicates a MeFite is suffering mentally that does NOT include a myriad of exhortations to seek professional help? I don't think that this idea will lead to MeFites in need being somehow trapped in a cycle of unprofessional advice from an untrained MeFite. I think it will probably lead to MeFites in need getting pointed quickly and consistently towards professional help.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:05 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you don't like the idea, you don't have to take part in it.

It's not like favourites or an edit window - this is a change to the site that, as proposed, could conceivably cause real harm to members of the site.

And the fact that there may be superior counselors out there doesn't mean there's something wrong with regular, non-professional community members advertising that they are open to talking about certain difficult issues.

I think part of the problem is that MeFi is planning to grant its imprimatur to unregulated one-to-one communication: seeking help from an individual MeFite is one thing, seeking help from an individual MeFite in the context of a MeFi-approved support system - with all the trust and good feeling and collective wisdom that implies - is quite different.
posted by jack_mo at 6:06 PM on July 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


Because taking something from a general to a specifically insulting thing is taking things up a notch and contributing to a situation where people feel personally attacked and/or publicly shamed here in MetaTalk which reduces the utility of MetaTalk.

Well, I'm sorry. I agree with you that it's depressing when conversations devolve. Both of my heated responses here have been made to comments that to my mind have worked to purposely harm the conversation by insulting an entire side of the debate. I'm disappointed that my comments pointing that out are the ones you see as harmful.

I'm having trouble reconciling the fact that you identify yourself as being a professional in this area yet you seem to consider it perfectly acceptable to tell somebody "You should be ashamed of yourself" and that they should act "more like an adult".

We aren't in my consulting room. Why would my comments in this conversation reflect at all on my professional persona? I'm wearing cutoffs and a dirty tshirt right now, but I always wear a tie when I see patients.
posted by OmieWise at 6:11 PM on July 25, 2011


It's profoundly depressing that people treat other people so badly when trying to talk about it.

There is help.

Anyone else want a cuppa?
posted by flabdablet at 6:14 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a terrible idea. On so many levels. Legal. Ethical. What-have-you.

Count me in as one of the opponents for all of the reasons so eloquently elucidated above.

The only thing I can add is this: How can we be sure that the people most inclined to step up to the plate are the ones who would actually be in the best position to help?
posted by jason's_planet at 6:19 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


maxwelton: For example, I think it would be awful for someone with a medicine question ("Has anyone used drug x?") to get in touch with a homeopathy advocate, or someone wanting to terminate a pregnancy and wanting to know what it's like talking to a right-to-life warrior.

Yep, seems to me many right-to-life warriors would enthusiastically volunteer themselves as "available to talk about abortion" because of its potential for steering emotionally vulnerable people away from that option, complete with theological rationales or grossly inaccurate medical "advice." Yikes. Not that that's been proposed as a category, but it's a concrete example of the problem of naive good intentions + overweening confidence + a knowledge set that they don't realize is incomplete, or, say, wrong in every factual particular -->damaging effects.

This might be mitigated by mudpuppie's idea of explicitly flagging one's own AskMe answers with a "I'll Listen" notation. Maybe. Something like that could remind a questioner to check an Listener's previous contributions on this topic, if any, to double-check compatibility of views.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:21 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought we were taking "help" off the table and changing the focus to "listen."
posted by Gator at 6:22 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really like Metafilter, and I think it is a unique community. At the same time, although I've met some very nice folks in real life, I don't have friends on Metafilter. That's just not how I interact with the community, at least right now. If I had a serious problem, I wouldn't reach out to someone from Metafilter about it. I think there are probably many people here in the same boat. (Maybe fewer in MetaTalk.)

I'm sure there are other folks who have personal interaction and are even close friends with other Mefites. For those people, I think it would be natural to reach out to someone from Metafilter, the way they would any other friend, even if it's someone halfway around the world that they've never actually met before.

Anyhow, my point is that maybe if Metafilter wants to be a place where people can reach out to a friend, it might be better to try to facilitate or promote building friendships rather than creating a system to allow members to reach out to strangers. (Members can, and do, do this now of course, but it's also really easy to just read/post without even really noticing there is memail.)

I'm not sure how to do this, and obviously Metafilter already does a lot to bring members together as a community. Maybe most people wouldn't be interested. On the other hand, maybe it would help and would make the community stronger, and if the choice was made to promote one on one communication more I think there would be ways to do it.

I guess all I'm saying is that it would be cool if members in trouble had the option to reach out to a friend on Metafilter and maybe the best way to do that would be to promote more one on one communication and friendship building.
posted by snofoam at 6:28 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's not like favourites or an edit window - this is a change to the site that, as proposed, could conceivably cause real harm to members of the site.

Then hang around and help clean up the mess if that happens, please.

I'm against the idea and appalled that it's already been decided, but I'd be pleased to be wrong in this case.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:30 PM on July 25, 2011


The next time someone asks me why people don't talk about things and hold it all inside, or how people can be suffering so invisibly and not feel like there's any hope for them at all, I think I'm just going to point to this thread and let it explain itself.

This is by far the shittiest thing written in this thread. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Obviously, I disagree, and also, I'm not.

Not subscribing to your worldview does not make folks bad people.

Please show me where I said it did, or that anyone here is a bad person. Seriously, please show me, because I didn't say any such thing. If you choose to infer it, that's up to you, but it won't be because I implied it. I think someone who might be inclined to seek help from the community might look at this thread and feel incredibly discouraged about the prospect or usefulness of doing that. I think that because I'm that person, and that's how I feel.

Not too long ago I was over at the wiki page for the reason that the wiki page exists, and I was trying to decide if I should cold-email someone. After the way this conversation has gone, I don't think it would be worth the hassle or the potential trauma I might inflict on someone else or whatever else are the very good, legal, and ethical reasons why I will just keep my mouth shut. If you think that means I'm calling you a bad person, that's up to you, I guess, but whatever.

Maybe if you acted more like an adult people would take your views more seriously.

Yeah, it's hard to see why I might find this conversation depressing and alienating.
posted by Errant at 6:31 PM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


as far as hotline training goes, since it's being offered as a model - as vincele, bebo, OmieWise, and others have pointed out, training to work as a volunteer in mental health support takes significant time. Volunteers then work under supervision with someone to whom they can escalate or share the call if necessary. Those of us working in the field are required to work with clients under supervision for *years*. I am not sure whether I'm more bothered by a no-training model or by a training model with no supervision.

I provide counseling in a setting where people are routinely committed involuntarily. I find it hard to read AskMe psychology questions because I see some of those stories at work. I have a plethora of coworkers (social workers, marriage & family therapists, licensed counselors, psychologists), psychiatrists, external supervisors and colleagues, and formal treatment meetings to discuss situations that concern me. Whether it is intended or not, the proposed system offers MetaFilter's imprimatur for one-on-one, unsupervised conversation.
posted by catlet at 6:37 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ok, then. If we've gotten off the "There Is Help" and "EarMe" isn't resonating (sadly), how about "Been There, Done That". I think mudpuppie suggested that as a tickmark when posting an answer to AskMe.

[X] BTDT - AskMe
posted by lysdexic at 6:38 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is what this is good for. A lot of times in AskMe, someone will ask a question and people will pick up on one bit of the post or another, and all of a sudden, the commenters are arguing back and forth about their own perceptions, and the original poster's thoughts, feelings and perspectives are entirely lost. This is sad. But it's inevitable in AskMe. look at AskMe right now, and you'll see it happening, I don't need to link to a thread. It happens every day.

I think it would be great if people could write to someone who's indicated wanting to hear something in particular, like "omg my mother in law is driving me crazy" whatever and not have to deal with a thread full of people picking apart the words they've used and maybe calling them a spoiled brat or whatever. I know some people want to take this feature to its most extreme extension, people who are in suicidal crisis, but I don't think it will be used that way and trust the mods to handle this appropriately and carefully.
posted by sweetkid at 6:40 PM on July 25, 2011


one-on-one, unsupervised conversation

99.9999% of all conversations are unsupervised by psychiatric professionals.
posted by prefpara at 6:40 PM on July 25, 2011


"There Is Help, But This Isn't It."
posted by Eideteker at 6:40 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


1. Change the name and don't include the word "help" in the name. Something more like lending an ear or something with friend might be more appropriate.

After reading through, I'm agreeing here. Since the idea isn't to replace professional help, but to just lend an ear, naming it "help (anything)" runs counter to that purpose. And it definitely needs to be something easily enabled/disabled at will for when people aren't available.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:46 PM on July 25, 2011


"Let me show you something!"
posted by Eideteker at 6:46 PM on July 25, 2011


99.9999% of all conversations are unsupervised by psychiatric professionals.

They're also generally spontaneous, informal, and carried out by people who are already somehow acquainted. If you put a sign in your front yard or post an ad on Craigslist offering free support services to strangers, it becomes a whole different thing.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:48 PM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


That's why this will be visible to logged-in members only.
posted by Gator at 6:49 PM on July 25, 2011


The Doctor Is In
posted by Eideteker at 6:53 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't get the impression that people here who object to this idea want to discourage people from getting help from the community. I think its more that they object to the institutionalization of this kind of help.

While I can't speak for anyone else - if someone mailed me cold, even though I disagree with this idea, I wouldn't have minded at all talking to you and I think that sentiment is shared by many people who object on this thread.

Peoples objections aren't personal and I don't get the impression that they mean to alienate others from reaching out. Its more that the idea of advertising that kind of help sits badly for a number of reasons, importantly among them is that it becomes not only a friendly interaction between members but a service which becomes endorsed by the site.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:55 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then hang around and help clean up the mess if that happens, please.

How would I do that? Unless I'm misunderstanding the whole thing, the idea is for individual members of the site to seek help from other individual members, without any kind of oversight or input from the mods or other members.

99.9999% of all conversations are unsupervised by psychiatric professionals.

You need more nines. But not all conversations take place in a space expressly designed to help people with difficult problems - that's what's being proposed here, ignoring the fact that random, self-appointed members of this site might not be the best people to help with those difficult problems.
posted by jack_mo at 7:02 PM on July 25, 2011


Again, I thought we were inclined to move away from "help" and more toward "listen."
posted by Gator at 7:03 PM on July 25, 2011


Peoples objections aren't personal and I don't get the impression that they mean to alienate others from reaching out.

I feel like I need to be absolutely clear about this: I don't think anyone here has anything but the best of intentions, I do not think anyone here, or at least most people here, are making this personal, and I certainly don't think anyone wants to alienate or silence people, especially people who want or need help.

I think its more that they object to the institutionalization of this kind of help.

All those concerns are valid, and many of them are concerns I have shared above. I think that in our efforts to object to the institutionalization of this kind of help, we can sometimes inadvertently contribute to the institutionalization of silence. That's not personal either, or some secretly and willfully malicious consequence. It's structural. It just sort of happens.

It is certainly possible, maybe even likely at this point, that this is something MeFi cannot do well or at all. There will be very good reasons for why that is the case. It will also be sobering and a little sad. Sometimes that's just how it is.
posted by Errant at 7:08 PM on July 25, 2011


No matter how much you say "listen" people are going to both seek out and want to give "help."
posted by Stewriffic at 7:09 PM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


How would I do that? Unless I'm misunderstanding the whole thing, the idea is for individual members of the site to seek help from other individual members, without any kind of oversight or input from the mods or other members.

If the problem makes it to MetaTalk, try to be helpful in any way you can.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:12 PM on July 25, 2011


I've had contact like this with MeFites in the informal, behind-the-scenes MeMail way we do things. One experience summarizes why this may have complications that can't be foreseen.

I encouraged another MeFite who was lonely to get in touch with local MeFites. In a complete reversal of every gentle and pleasant contact we'd had, this person responded with increasingly angry and incoherent emails accusing me of being in some sort of plot with these local MeFites to cause harm. This person went on to forward private emails from the local MeFites as evidence of the conspiracy.

It was extremely disturbing. I didn't know the right thing to do: Tell the other MeFites, who had no idea they were featured in this person's delusions? If they got involved, would it confirm this person's paranoid ideas, and escalate the episode? If this was evidence of a serious mental disorder, was emergency help needed? How could I get my own advice about how to handle this without potentially broaching this person's privacy, stigmatizing them or making their condition worse?

In the end, I withdrew, the MeFite regained lucidity, apologized profusely, and chalked the whole episode up to a medication issue. But for the 72 hours or so it lasted I could think of nothing else, and still doubt the whole story is clear. Or what the right thing to do was. I was so far in over my head. I strive to be a caring person with good judgment but I simply couldn't handle this.

I was one of the people who posted in the thread about Bill Zeller's suicide and I am politically engaged with helping survivors of sexual assault. I've listened to many friends, been listened to...and I know how powerfully it helps. But those were friends, people I had relationships with on other levels, and we were accountable to each other and shared history in other ways besides that. I have no expertise to help someone with serious trauma or mental illness. And I firmly believe that lacking training or knowledge, I can't offer sensible help to people, or protect my own emotional health. I truly admire the impulse to help and believe it's no small part of why I love MeFi and so many people here. But I felt I should share my story as an example of how quickly and badly things can go awry even when your only wish is to help a person in pain.
posted by melissa may at 7:13 PM on July 25, 2011 [34 favorites]


I am reminded of this MetaTalk thread.

If a trained medical specialist was unable to help a MeFite in a terrible place, and felt some level of personal responsibility and guilt about what happened to her, how are untrained people going to cope if they find themselves in a similar position?
posted by goshling at 7:17 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm curious how the expectations are going to be set for the helpees around confidentiality and disclosure. Personally, I'm happy to talk to someone in danger/crisis if they need someone to listen to them and they aren't willing or able to use the many trained volunteers and professionals who are out there, but if I believe someone might hurt themselves or others, I'm most probably going to write the mods an urgent message and hope they can gather enough information to contact the authorities. In that case, I'd want it to be clear on the "I need help" page that I may have to do this, even if the asker requests total confidentiality.

I've casually talked to a few MeFites in quasi-crisis situations (usually when someone's posts seemed off and I sent a MeMail asking if they are ok) and am glad that I had the ability to listen to those who needed a sounding board, but if this is going to be any kind of organized thing, there need to be some kind of boundaries and guidelines around it.
posted by zachlipton at 7:21 PM on July 25, 2011


the same way that having a little "safe space" or whatever sticker on your door works...

Really love this framing. It's like a sticker that says "MeToo."
posted by hermitosis at 8:19 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another spit-balled alternative:

What if, instead of putting an "I'll listen" on individual users' profile pages, there were a subsite, like Projects or Music, where anonymous posters could say something like, "Been really depressed for a few weeks. Need to talk about _______", or "Need to come out to my folks, who belong to a specific sect of the ______ religion." Then responders could reply, privately and via Memail, with a brief outline of why they can relate and how they'd be willing to help. The asker could then choose to contact one or more of the responders who that best suit his/her needs.

Benefits:

-- The person who needs someone to listen isn't having to go down the list until they find someone in that category who is right for them -- they can choose from willing responders who supply specific information about why they might have some insight. (Have you ever tried to pick a therapist and ended up with a bad one? This is the same thing, regardless of what you call it.)

-- Asker remains anonymous to the community (but revealed to the responders?).

-- There's no community referendum on the best course of action for this person -- responses remain between the asker and the responder.

-- Asker may end up with, who knows, 12 people to talk to, instead of just one, which makes them feel like they're getting a big community hug without revealing too much to the community. Win-win!

-- Still provides the desired safe place, but without putting the "I'll Listens" in the position of being contacted by the asker. Again, it would be opt-in for them. [I don't know why this feels like an important distinction to them -- especially given what Melissa May said above -- but it does.]

Drawbacks:

-- Asker remains anonymous (except to the mods, if they decide to do some research). How is this different from just asking an anonymous AskMe?

-- It may be too much like Metachat.

-- What if, in fact, no one really DOES want to listen?

-- Technically possible?

-- Would limits be imposed on posting needs for willing ears, and would this violate the original idea?

Anyway, feel free to shoot this down (without shooting me). As I said before, I love the spirit of this, but am struggling with the actual function of it.

Fortunately, as with most things, my opinion absolutely does not matter, and I accept that.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:34 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter is a social network. People are going to talk offline, meet in person, fight, disagree, make love, and support other people they meet on this site.

People often remind others that MetaFilter is not a "safe space" to talk about certain issues related to sexuality, health care, and certain personal issues such as abuse, though they are usually just as quick to add that it is safer than most. I think adding a layer to the site that creates this kind of space for those who want it would be an extremely valuable, worthwhile experiment.

Having a button saying "you can ask me about [x]" changes the dynamic of the discussion, moving what was once (largely) public into a private realm. It becomes more personal and lacks contrary opinions,

That's the thing though -- that not all conversations are enhanced by people rushing forward with contrary opinions. Think about all the comments that have to be deleted, and all the ridiculous drive-by commentors that have to be shushed, in order to have a sane, gentle conversation about certain issues. I think that people who are curious about others experiences needn't automatically go through that kind of trial by fire in order to reach out to people on this site.
posted by hermitosis at 8:35 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is truly great!
posted by SarahElizaP at 9:21 PM on July 25, 2011


- Does this sound about right?

- functionally very little point in putting icons on users' profile pages, as people seeking help would be unlikely to randomly visit profile pages on the off chance of finding a helper.

- would require some kind of index / search function by subject matter. need to ensure this is automated (ie kept in sync as helpers add, change or delete their opt-in status)

- dislike the concept of rows of icons like boyscout badges or war medals alongside usernames in regular threads. possibly ok on askme.

- would probably want some kind of indicator showing that a helper has been recently active on the site - "recent activity" links on profile pages are not necessarily intuitive for people needing help to find and/or use.

- Is there a huge flaw that would keep you from using this, if you are the sort of person who is interested in this feature?

- timezone differences could make timely communications difficult.

- if it's too private for me to even post an anonymous askme, then i'd be worried about the privacy implications in general - eg are the communications secure? are they bound by confidentiality? how do i know the person at the other end is bona fide?

- i'd be concerned about the whole one-on-one, unsupervised discussion. as a person gifted with bipolar awesomeness, i'd be afraid of things getting messy one-on-one in ways which could be mitigated by more participants offering more checks & balances.

- biggest flaw: lack of accreditation, or ways to evaluate volunteer helpers. how to know that a helper is even capable of offering good advice / listening skills / etc? what about their own ideological biases? somebody mentioned the example of a pro-lifer offering abortion advice earlier - that's not a bad example. drugs, relationships etc often leave people with all kinds of baggage & ideological biases, the effects of which are mitigated somewhat by the more group-oriented format of askme.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:44 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


mudpuppie: I like the problem-solving approach you're taking here.
I worry that your "I need an ear" subsite proposal would invite drama-mongering (it would be anonymous AskMe plus the promise of seeing how many people will rise to your dramatic request for help) and I worry about the "what if nobody offers to listen" problem that you note.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:56 PM on July 25, 2011


(not that most people, or most requests for help, are drama-mongerers. They aren't. But I still think site design and mod practices should aim to limit drama and its mongering whenever possible.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:00 PM on July 25, 2011


I really, really want to like this idea, but in the end I think it's too problematic. I'll nth that if we are going to do this in any form, we have to avoid any terms like crisis or help. Honestly, I even think that "listen" and similar terms are not going to work, because they so strongly imply trained help. And if MetaFilter provides a list of people you can contact about a certain kind of concern, there's no way not to make that look like a site endorsement of certain people who are able to help you in a crisis. It seems to me that the only way this can work is if it is an extremely informal field on a member's profile page, and open-ended enough that it encompasses everything from small motor repair to chess strategy. That way if someone is willing and able to chat about your personal crisis situation, you'll know it, but the function of the form is clearly "hey, I like it when people memail me, and here are some things I can talk about with you." The closest that we should get, in my opinion, to creating a list is perhaps to make it easy to search the tags of that form.

What it might look like is another line on my profile that says "Message Me About: faith, religion, mental illness, potty training, and life in West Texas." And then on the MetaFilter search form we add a new option to specifically search "Message Me" tags. But we have to let people be jokey and silly with the form so that it dilutes the impression that "these are all helpful people to go to in your life crisis." The crisis helper types will still be there, but they will be less likely to be mistaken for MeFi's internal suicide hotline.

I think the best way this would be used is if I notice another MeFite who seems particularly useful in a certain area, and I check their profile to see if they are open to being contacted. It's more of a confirmation that "yeah, this person I noticed is cool with me dropping them a line" than "here's a list of people who can help you with your crisis."

Anything more formal or more crisis-focused than that gets into ethical and logistical quandaries in a hurry.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:28 PM on July 25, 2011 [27 favorites]


I think, on balance, this is a fantastic idea.

Perhaps though, to deal with some of the objections that seem to be brought up by many in this discussion, once the system is set up, there should be an application process to get 'approved' as a MeToo in specific areas. If we're comparing MeToo to the concept of Safe Spaces or those little stickers on dorm/office doors, in my experience they don't just hand those out. You need to be trained or at least prove you have the requisite knowledge. This could also be a way that the meta-tags are worked in and allow a less intimidating list once a little more information is available.

For Example: Once the system is set up, an individual user files a short message/application to be approved in 1-4 categories. In this message, they tick off a few things they have the experience with to lend a helpful ear or knowing advice about. Help with BiPolar or Depression under Mental Health, help with bisexuality under LGBTQ, help with childhood sex abuse under the Abuse category. Once/If that person is approved for that category, they get tags next to their name in the larger index. So someone looking for a MeToo to MeMail would click LGBTQ and then choose someone who's tags seemed to fit them. There is a HUGE difference between Trans issues, Lesbian issues, Questioning issues, etc. Even between generations. And that sort of specificity would help a lot. I know I'd personally like to help with abuse, or even like someone to talk too personally, but I would be out of my depth if someone who experienced spousal abuse or date rape contacted me.

And this is a social support system, not a help hotline. That is clear and thats why its a great idea. MetaFilter is already a fantastic network for many of the community members - its a real community. Its a support system for people who would go insane without a place to discuss cool shit (and occasionally heavy shit or politics) intelligently/funnily/deeply. With Ask, its a support system for people with questions (about anything!). With Projects, IRL, Music we've kept extending the support system. I don't see any reason MeToo shouldn't be there to support those who want to share, on a personal, not public level, their burden or life with someone who can at the very least listen and converse. As has been mentioned before, social support is empirically shown to be incredibly helpful in all the situations delineated by the Mods.
posted by Chipmazing at 10:32 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


That all said, I like Pater's "Message Me" idea as well.
posted by Chipmazing at 10:33 PM on July 25, 2011


I also think Pater Alethias's idea is good.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:13 PM on July 25, 2011


I see something like Pater Aletheias' MessageMe perhaps working out better – a looser and more informal well of members who have signified that they are open to having email discussions on various topics that are not all crisis related. I like the idea of a social network idea more than a helper idea, and I like the more distributed aspect of Pater's suggestion. I think it bears continued conversation, and I support more winnowing down of the whole idea to extract the positive possibilities while minimizing possible harm.

For what it's worth, I've had some experience with people suffering manic episodes mailing me, and people with persistent paranoid delusions mailing me, among other things, and I seriously knew I was waaaay out of my depth. I doubt that I would choose to badge myself as a listener as a result of these experiences, because I was rather badly shaken at the time, and terrified how my responses might be construed.
posted by taz at 12:22 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I just have to say that I don't think I've ever seen more thuggish behavior on this site than what the Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry has displayed in this thread. I've never once in the nine years I've been here expressed a desire for someone to be banned, but I want this person nuked from orbit.
posted by taz at 12:29 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never once in the nine years

should be I don't think I've ever once...

where's my edit widow?
posted by taz at 12:30 AM on July 26, 2011


Another vote for Pater Aletheias' Message Me.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:35 AM on July 26, 2011


I was pretty ambivalent about the original proposed structure of this thing and outright concerned about a few particular aspects, but Pater Aletheias' idea alleviates most of the concerns and adds some nifty community-building. I like it.

(Particularly that it moves the focus strongly away from a Helpline model. I'd be really concerned about both parties, helpers and helpees, in that sort of structure.)
posted by pseudonymph at 1:54 AM on July 26, 2011


I like the perspective and approach snofoam and Pater Aletheias are taking. Otherwise this seems a well-intentioned but scary idea.
posted by aielen at 2:12 AM on July 26, 2011


If the problem makes it to MetaTalk, try to be helpful in any way you can.

If the problem is someone taking their own life because of advice received over ThereIsHelp, I'm struggling to see how I could be helpful to the grieving relative who's posted to MetaTalk.

It seems to me that the only way this can work is if it is an extremely informal field on a member's profile page, and open-ended enough that it encompasses everything from small motor repair to chess strategy.

Adding a way to find MeFites with expertise in niche areas and contact them directly seems like a great idea.
posted by jack_mo at 3:34 AM on July 26, 2011


Nthing the concerns about this idea. It's obviously a large-hearted and noble effort made out of concern and love for others on the site, but there are just too many serious pitfalls.

When you're explicitly targeting people with serious drug/abuse/mental problems, the system is fraught from the start with emotional fragility that can lead to toxic misunderstandings. As others have said, this is ameliorated in AskMe because everything's public and problematic or malicious behavior can be spotted and moderated. But this sets up private one-on-one relationships that leaves both sides overly vulnerable.

What if a person in dire straits contacts somebody with a desperate expectation that there will be tangible help and that person cannot deliver? What if poor or inappropriate advice precipitates a suicide, or the helper perceives that such had happened? How will that weigh on them? Will high-profile users known for competent advice feel deluged with requests if they volunteer themselves? How can helpers maintain peace of mind when their connection to the other person is so tenuous? Etc.

I've heard plenty of horror stories about the intense stress of working at suicide hotlines and 911 call centers, even from people who had training and professional oversight. Setting up a similar system, or anything that can be perceived by emotionally damaged people as a similar system, with no support or safeguards for either party is tempting very bad trouble all around.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:41 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a veteran of advice and am happy to help and I am also aware that stuff may go wrong, as in life. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to give back
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:50 AM on July 26, 2011


I think it would be better if, instead of just having the "I'm available" icon, moderators could also award icons to indicate a person who is known to have certain qualifications--whether that means "is not a dick" or "eight years of social work". Or, if not icons, then another page in the wiki. A locked one; vandalism would be a killer for this purpose.

There are going to be a lot of situations where a helper needs to forward a helpee to someone better qualified. So we need a process for finding someone better qualified. Google only works if you know the ontology of what you're looking for; let's supply the ontology.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:15 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think this is a well-meant but ultimately bad idea and I hope the mods aren't too invested in it to re-evaluate the plan. What if instead, MeFi did some fundraising for helpline charities, and displayed their contact information contextually in relevant threads?
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:51 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it boils down this: MeMailing a MeFite when you're suicidal isn't better than calling a suicide hotline. I guess the mods are saying that this isn't what it's for, but the framing makes it seem like it is.

So what is the phrasing on the badge that will let people understand this? "I am willing to take to anyone about suicide, but I am not a suicide conselor?" I can't think of a way to express that well.
posted by ignignokt at 6:13 AM on July 26, 2011


more thuggish behavior on this site than what the Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry has displayed

So did he shit, or get off the pot, or what?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:21 AM on July 26, 2011


I hope the mods aren't too invested in it to re-evaluate the plan.

We're not. I had thought there was more site-wide buy in than there apparently was and we'll take this back to the drawing board.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:31 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


This one is tricky. I'd like it better if allowing people to have tags only get them if they were vetted by other people. Do they have the chops to be a moderator on that topic?

I don't know how that process would work. Maybe there could be an "I want to help" microsite.

Maybe instead of profiles, someone who needs help could select a topic, and get in to a private ask-me type of post where only people who are allowed to help can see and reply. that way there is some accountability because it would be reaching out to more than just one person. ...Maybe this wouldn't be as helpful since it is impersonal to click on some tag. on the other hand, maybe not? Maybe a person could click on a tag, then would have to select at least two users in the category to get a reply.
posted by bleary at 6:31 AM on July 26, 2011


Sorry, I didn't finish my post. I forgot to say that, in selecting two users, it could be less impersonal if the people who have signed up to help have short descriptions as to why they've signed up.

Another topic -- I definitely agree that there should be some training, even if just materials to read.
posted by bleary at 6:33 AM on July 26, 2011


..kind of like how a bug tracker works.
posted by bleary at 6:40 AM on July 26, 2011


I think this is a good idea in theory, but as this thread has played out, I hope it doesn't happen in its current incarnation. It's nothing I would be comfortable with using as a user or helper. I think it's lovely that this idea of helping people is out there - and it's so wonderfully typical of the AskMe culture of wanting to help - but this just seems like reinventing the wheel:

-There are already a wide variety of services out there for help (see ThereIsHelp wiki, especially if one is in crisis).
-AskMe already exists as a place to ask just about any kind of question and get a wide variety of answers and help with it
-There is already an option for anonymous questions
-People are already able to create sockpuppet accounts if they want to have the option to reply to their questions, or forsee having to ask a lot of questions about an embarrassing/personal/sensitive subject
-There is already an option for people to reply in thread with "memail me if you want to talk about this more". And I like this option because the answerer already took the time to reply and the asker can decide if they want to ask more in memail based on the quality of the answer, they're not just randomly hooked up based by who is online more.

I think MeFi is doing all it reasonably can for this kind of thing.

I've recently been spending more time on AskMe and damn, that is good shit. In my own recent AskMe, there was some misinformation that was quickly cleared up. It wasn't by any means major, just an example of why some things being public are a good idea, I got a wide variety of good responses. One person can't provide that. I also got some awesome private memails about it and that was cool too that that feature is available. So I guess I'm saying, these things are already in place and I think the site is already operating at the best possible way it can.

But yeah, if you are an expert in an area and want to offer friendly advice on something, Pater Aletheias' idea seems to fit the bill as a good compromise.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:53 AM on July 26, 2011


I'm glad to see this is being 'reevaluated', as this line in the post really worried me "This is not a "Should we do this?" request".

I share the concerns articulated by many people above, but these would be greatly lessened if something along the MessageMe idea goes ahead.
posted by knapah at 7:21 AM on July 26, 2011


googly writes "Could the list display other user information to help people decide on whom to contact (age/gender/location seem like some obvious ones, perhaps there is more)"

Be aware that many people are reluctant to divulge this information. For the same reason requiring ThereIsHelpers to provide information for follow up services is going to be problematic as it's going to require location information from both parties. And users not in the US are going to have trouble providing or being able to receive location appropriate information.


Yeah I am of course aware of that. I wouldn't suggest that people be required to provide this info - merely that it be pulled from user pages if they have provided it already. Just something to consider during the new drawing boarding.
posted by googly at 7:22 AM on July 26, 2011


Oh, and I just have to say that I don't think I've ever seen more thuggish behavior on this site than what the Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry has displayed in this thread.

Well, just so long as we're not being all hyperbolic about it or anything.
posted by dersins at 7:24 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


MeMailing a MeFite when you're suicidal isn't better than calling a suicide hotline.

Your mileage may vary, as I pointed out in the Bill Zeller thread. You couldn't pay me to ever call a suicide hotline again, no matter how desperate I became.

I wish we could have a complete reboot of this entire thread, because people are still continuing to use words like "help," and "expert," and "counseling," and all these references to suicide, even though jessamyn made clear upthread that this wasn't going to be that kind of service. Taking out those loaded words, like "crisis" and "danger" and all that, should still leave us with a way for a collection of MeFites to simply put themselves on a list for other MeFites that simply says, "Hey, if you need somebody to talk to, I'm available." That's all this was ever intended to be, as far as I'm aware.
posted by Gator at 7:25 AM on July 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wish we could have a complete reboot of this entire thread, because people are still continuing to use words like "help," and "expert," and "counseling," and all these references to suicide, even though jessamyn made clear upthread that this wasn't going to be that kind of service. Taking out those loaded words, like "crisis" and "danger" and all that, should still leave us with a way for a collection of MeFites to simply put themselves on a list for other MeFites that simply says, "Hey, if you need somebody to talk to, I'm available." That's all this was ever intended to be, as far as I'm aware.

Yeah, this.
posted by sweetkid at 7:36 AM on July 26, 2011


I wish we could have a complete reboot of this entire thread, because people are still continuing to use words like "help," and "expert," and "counseling," and all these references to suicide, even though jessamyn made clear upthread that this wasn't going to be that kind of servic.

When the proposal to do this was born of of suicide and specifically mentions subjects such as

"- Substance Abuse (alcohol, drugs, addictions)
- Rape/Harassment/Domestic Abuse
- Mental Health Issues (anxiety, depression, therapy)
- GLBTQ concerns"

it's not surprising how the thread went. All of those things imply "help" and "expert" and "counseling", with a dash of suicide.


Also, was there a proposal to consider doing this in MeTa before or was this just born from a general feeling in the community?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:47 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


That way if someone is willing and able to chat about your personal crisis situation, you'll know it, but the function of the form is clearly "hey, I like it when people memail me, and here are some things I can talk about with you." The closest that we should get, in my opinion, to creating a list is perhaps to make it easy to search the tags of that form.

I like that and the idea of making it much more informal. I think one of the consequences of keeping memail so downplayed is that for a lot of newer/less frequent users, it feels like a major intrusion to cold-memail someone. If we could have a way of indicating in our profiles that we are open to talking about "loss, relationships, and space marines", that would go a long way in making other users seem more accessible in a personal way. This goes back to my previous comment about trying to change site culture surrounding memail rather than an official structure in place.

I wish we could have a complete reboot of this entire thread, because people are still continuing to use words like "help," and "expert," and "counseling," and all these references to suicide, even though jessamyn made clear upthread that this wasn't going to be that kind of service.

I agree, but I do think that the way it was framed as complimentary to the "ThereIsHelp" wiki page full of tons of fantastic professional resources makes the "counseling" connection rather implicit.
posted by Think_Long at 7:50 AM on July 26, 2011


Also, was there a proposal to consider doing this in MeTa before or was this just born from a general feeling in the community?

People were imagining some variant of this idea towards the end of the Bill Zeller thread and many MeFites have been emailing me privately asking about it. I've been talking to the mod team about it for months and reaching out to site members who seemed to have some sort of a stake in this to have some help crafting a proposal and folded their suggestions into this proposal which was okayed by the entire mod team before I made this post. As I said, the response was surprising, and I'm not in a place where I'm feeling like starting from scratch at this point so as far as I'm concerned it's tabled for the time being since it appears that it's something that did not have the support that I thought it did.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:52 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pater's suggestion sounds good and workable. Its lack of a tight focus would be a plus for the site, IMO, because it encourages general social contact which can prompt close contact. A user might not want to use or volunteer for more weighty subjects, but lending an ear or hand to someone they've been talking to and building a bond with over some general subject would be a different story.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:14 AM on July 26, 2011


I'm not in a place where I'm feeling like starting from scratch at this point so as far as I'm concerned it's tabled for the time being

Great. A simple system of offering kindness and a listening ear backburnered by poor framing, overthinking, and mass paranoia. Very disappointing.
posted by Gator at 8:24 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Extremely disappointing.
posted by zarq at 8:25 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


SUPERBLY DISAPPOINTING
posted by cashman at 8:27 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


A user might not want to use or volunteer for more weighty subjects, but lending an ear or hand to someone they've been talking to and building a bond with over some general subject would be a different story.

It also lets us define for ourselves what's weighty and light. The original proposal explicitly excluded "chit-chatting" about such non-crisis topics as "children, pets, neighbors," but these are the very things that inspire some of us to be up in the middle of the night beside ourselves with grief or worry. I usually read old AskMes for comfort at those moments, but others might like some one-on-one empathy.

By the way, if you ever have someone peer-pressuring you into getting rid of your turntable and/or LPs ("We need the storage space," "Haven't you grown out of that yet?"), feel free to contact me for moral support. Or you can just ship the records to me as non-violent conflict resolution.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:34 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad the mods have shown a willingness to let the idea breathe for awhile so it can be re-thought and more finely tuned.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:36 AM on July 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Great. A simple system of offering kindness and a listening ear backburnered by poor framing, overthinking, and mass paranoia. Very disappointing.

Wholehearted agreement. And sorry for the time (and more importantly energy) that it "wasted", Jessamyn. I'm sorry this went the way it did.
posted by fake at 8:36 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not disappointed. I think it was an inspiringly compassionate idea, many members with a variety of views on it contributed to a constructive discussion of it, and I think it was the impetus for many people to think about what the Metafilter community is, and what it could be. I think a lot of good has come out of it, even if the project itself is abandoned.
posted by snofoam at 8:38 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


As someone whose been supportive of this idea since the beginning, I'm also truly saddened by this being tabled. It's been a rough couple of months for me (no less than 3 deaths in the family including my grandmother and other assorted misfortunes), and it did give me hope to see this finally going ahead as Metafilter is the closest thing I have to a "real" community. Really wish I didn't see this today.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:38 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The beans win.
posted by mrbill at 8:42 AM on July 26, 2011


I don't think this matter should be closed at all.
This being metafilter if the mods announced everyone could have the pony of their choice there would be those who found fault with it.
The US is litigious by nature however this should not stop anybody being able to ask anything of a friend, even if that friend is an internet friend.
There should be a pretty large banner headline stating that these people are just sympathetic ears to talk to. It's the talking in many cases which is the start of the solution as in talking people formulate and express their concerns. So I say Boo to the naysayers and this troll.
Please extend the conversation to those who have shown interest and take it forward from there.
posted by adamvasco at 8:47 AM on July 26, 2011


I understand the disappointment of those who've been involved with or known about this plan for a long time and who felt it was totally ready to roll out right now, but I'd ask you to think back to the Zeller thread when the first germs of the idea were being floated, and after that as people brainstormed and tossed possibilities around.

For many (most?) MeFites, this is the first we're hearing about this potential major new feature, and we're still at the initial "let's look at the possibilities and repercussions" phase. That doesn't mean that NOTHING like this will EVER happen; it means that if you want a large, varied community to embrace something so complex, it's more realistic to gather community input as is happening here, and incorporate the beneficial suggestions.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:48 AM on July 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


FelliniBlank: " For many (most?) MeFites, this is the first we're hearing about this potential major new feature, and we're still at the initial "let's look at the possibilities and repercussions" phase. That doesn't mean that NOTHING like this will EVER happen; it means that if you want a large, varied community to embrace something so complex, it's more realistic to gather community input as is happening here, and incorporate the beneficial suggestions."

The idea is being tabled. jessamyn said: "As I said, the response was surprising, and I'm not in a place where I'm feeling like starting from scratch at this point so as far as I'm concerned it's tabled for the time being since it appears that it's something that did not have the support that I thought it did."

Considering how many people are clearly and vociferously opposed to it, and that we've had a sockpuppet troll essentially offer to help people sue the site in this very thread, I think it obvious that this is an initiative which is unlikely to happen.
posted by zarq at 8:52 AM on July 26, 2011


Is there no chance of Pater Aletheias's suggestion being considered or tweaked? I think it could be a great way of broadening and tapping into community support here.

(In fact, the original post made me think of how locally we have "breastfeeding buddies" - experienced mothers providing support for new mothers. Trying to establish breastfeeding and dealing with a newborn can be such a stressful time and being able to reach out to hear a friendly person who's been through it too tell you this is normal, you are by far not the only one who's gone through this, here's some ideas you could try, etc. is so helpful.)

I would love to see the criticism of the original plan in this thread be used to help build a stronger, less problematic plan that still serves the original intent of wanting to be helpful - rather than the criticism discourage any further work at all towards that end.

On preview, +1 to FelliniBlank.
posted by flex at 8:53 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I support the Pater Aletheias' plan.
posted by garlic at 9:11 AM on July 26, 2011


Great. A simple system of offering kindness and a listening ear backburnered by poor framing, overthinking, and mass paranoia. Very disappointing.

Or, you know, a nice idea with some serious flaws backburnerd when those flaws were pointed out.

For many (most?) MeFites, this is the first we're hearing about this potential major new feature, and we're still at the initial "let's look at the possibilities and repercussions" phase. That doesn't mean that NOTHING like this will EVER happen; it means that if you want a large, varied community to embrace something so complex, it's more realistic to gather community input as is happening here, and incorporate the beneficial suggestions.

Yeah, without being all WWIC?! about it, it seems like this would've worked out better had it been presented as a possibility up for public discussion on MetaTalk, rather than as a fait accompli that was worked on behind closed doors with input coming only from folk who'd already expressed support for the concept.
posted by jack_mo at 9:33 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also like Pater Aletheias' approach. I think it addresses a lot of the concerns folks have had (which were never directed at intent, just logistics), while facilitating the community support aspect behind the idea. I think that could work well.

On preview, +1 to FelliniBlank.

I don't want to derail, but is +1 the new @?

posted by mudpuppie at 9:39 AM on July 26, 2011


I'd also like to say thanks to jessamyn for asking the larger community about this before it was implemented. I'm sorry that the resulting was a disappointment, and am especially sorry if I personally contributed to that disappointment.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:40 AM on July 26, 2011


I'm also sorry if I'm part of that disappointment, but I think with the retweaking as suggested by Pater, the intent of the project would still be there without all of the hazards.
posted by Think_Long at 9:44 AM on July 26, 2011


I support the Pater Aletheias' plan.

Yeah, I hope if/when this gets un-tabled, that will be looked at. I think there's the outline of a middle-road plan there that makes this work without necessarily needing to start from scratch with the concept, but assuages the concerns about the system being seen as a replacement for professional help.

Meanwhile, I've appended a "MeMail Me!" to my profile, so folks can at least see I'm approachable. I've been pinged a few times by folks wanting to talk privately, and I'm good with that happening in an informal way. Or, just MeMail me for shits & grins. I like those, too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:46 AM on July 26, 2011


I think mostly this has gone okay. The core idea of a way to make it easier to reach out is a great idea, and dedicated people have been working on it, and Jessamyn framed this post in a really clear and good way that explained what that team was thinking. And the plan still had some serious drawbacks or risks, and opening the discussion to the wider community has brought those drawbacks into the spotlight. And now we need to think about whether we can find a way to get the benefits of the original plan while eliminating or minimizing the drawbacks.

That is all okay - pretty much everybody here is putting their minds to work for the benefit of the site/community and its members. Except for a few people who got really shirty in here, I think most of the commenters have been entirely well-intentioned on both sides and just trying to think carefully about the risks. I hope the original team of planners won't feel like the wider community is saying "we should never help each other", because I don't think that's it at all, and I don't think we should get stuck in an "all or nothing" frame of mind.

I do think the existing AskMe tradition of saying "feel free to memail me" is a good one, for the reasons pointed out above - it's personal and timely and the reader has a way of evaluating whether the other person would be a good person to contact. The drawback of this is that the person has to post an AskMe in the first place to start the process, so some people will .

What do people who were part of the backstage planning phase think of something like Pater Alethias's plan of a note in the profile that makes it clear it's okay to cold-email someone on certain subjects, without making a formal team of helpers?

If we were still adding topics, I think "new parent/PPD/breastfeeding" would be another one.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:07 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm quite keen on Ask being the main channel for community querying, but the 'you can message me about this'/'Been There, Done That' seems like a workable middle ground. As long as it's suitably disclaimered, sometimes it's terribly helpful to have no real practical advice but simply to know that someone else has been through what you're going through, whether it's dealing with a difficult recipe or the death of a child, and to have a semi-anonymous ear. Which is partly why I get so furious with the de-anonymisation of a lot of netlife, but that is another argument.
posted by robself at 10:16 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hooray for sanity prevailing. But yeah, it sucks to put a bunch of time and effort into an idea just to find out it's not that popular. It's the tradeoff for not polling public opinion at an earlier stage. When you only consult supporters of your plan, you have a tendency towards groupthink and confirmation bias. I understand you can't or don't need to consult with folks on many things, but again, it's a judgement call and a tradeoff. You don't have to go public with it, but I think it makes sense to consult with someone with a professional background on the subject ahead of time. It's pretty telling in this thread that most of the folks with experience in dealing with the sort of issues mentioned in the post were almost uniformly against it (as it was framed) in some way or another.

Don't view it as too much of a setback. This thread overall has been really positive, with the vast majority of people supporting the intent if not the execution of the proposal. The consensus is that MeFites are really nice, helpful people. And we maintained a consistently high level of dialogue here.

Pater Aletheias has a good suggestion. Standardize some kind of area on the profile for people to put down subjects about which they are open to talk. This way, it's in the same place on every profile, and people know where to look. Folks need to know what to expect. You may want a way to aggregate people who are available to talk about x, sorted by recent activity. But I think that's the extent to which it should go. Anything more, and you need to look at a setup like mudpuppie described, with double anonymity (so that everyone is not bugging the same 2-3 users while a dozen others have empty inboxes. As cashman said, it's either got to be fully-fledged or bare bones.

So take some time, don't get discouraged, and come back swinging. We've shown that there's a tremendous amount of goodwill in this site, and we're just figuring out how best to mine it. There is hope.
posted by Eideteker at 10:46 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is very important: When I convey information on this website under this pseudonym (fuq) is it not at all related to my professional or academic work unless I explicitly say it is professionally my opinion and I use my legal name. If you need help or are experiencing a crisis do not consult me through metafilter. Any statement I make on metafilter is informal and should not be seen as professing any competency in any professional field.

When I found out about this I jumped out of my seat. It wouldn't just be a new feature for metafilter, it would be a new type of online social work/crisis intervention/therapy about which nothing is known. I have never heard of another system like this. Very heavy shit goes in ask.metafilter and it's open to public view. A backstage, anonymous, online intervention method on a major social networking site has profound ramifications. I don't know how the confidential intervention/social work exchanges through mefimail/profiles could even be studied or policed. The possible ramifications of a sanctioned, secret, help network inside of a general interested public website literally boggles my mind. I'm glad I read farther down the thread to see the idea was tabled because I started writing an email to one of my professors to start some research design. A simple thing like networking anonymous help-seekers to anonymous volunteers on such a large site is of tremendous interest for people who provide mental health counseling and treatment as their purpose and specialization in life.

There are very specific, concrete steps to take when dealing with a suicidal person for both the safety of the person and the volunteer. The process is based on many years of best practices and scientific studies. Anyone can learn and practice these techniques but they are hard to learn from a FAQ or pamphlet; it is most helpful to learn crisis intervention techniques in a classroom from a trained instructor. This system seems to assume that all metafilter users who would volunteer communication with a person who is in trouble are capable of providing help and able to realize their inabilities to provide help. It is true that the less people know about a subject the less they are able to see their shortcomings in an area. There is a possibility that this system will prevent people from getting professional help or will guide people away from effective treatment because it provides an essentially random untrained first responded/intake. I guarantee with 100% certainty that it will be used as a substitute for professional advise in some amount of cases because Ask.metafilter is already being used as a substitute for professional advise. It is impossible to know what could happen within a confidential and moderateness setting.

The ramifications of such a system are intense but unknown. Metafilter is a huge source of social support for many people and this system would create a new dynamic on the site and among the users. I'm somewhat astounded that a new functionality with the possibility for terrifying misuse was about to be casually rolled out. It is like gun manufacturers: I know the creators of metafilter.com don't intend to create a tool that, unintentionally through a lack of training or intentionally can ruin lives, but this is a tool that may be used to ruin people's lives. You can say it is not supposed to be therapy, but it will be therapy for somebody. Matt Haughy even said once to embrace people who don't follow the rules, so you know there are many people who don't follow the rules or who will push the envelope. Disclaimers are just words. How will people who don't follow the rules use this completely new system to anonymously and covertly connect users for critical crisis intervention?

Wowwy zowwy.
posted by fuq at 10:52 AM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Man, Eideteker, we have such different readings of this thread that I'm not sure what to say about that. I guess I just wish I had the positive feeling you're experiencing, instead of what seems right now very much like the opposite.
posted by Errant at 11:06 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well I for one think the idea of doing something to encourage social inclusion and feeling community support when times are hard is a good thing.

Unfortunately the risks everyone here is mentioning are also part of why people with "big problems" feel like they can't simply share their lives with ordinary people because they present a liability and a burden.

They feel this way for a reason and those reasons can't be erased. They are there. The question is, could people in the community play a role in integrating those having "big problems" into society and feeling comfortable sharing their daily reality and experiences without feeling like simply speaking their minds is in and of itself something they can't do outside of being around professionals?

Mentally ill, abused, traumatized, fill in the blank, people are often treated as people who should have intimacy through professionals and not murk up traditional society-- (At least it often feels like that.) Or that because society isn't "well trained" they should just back off entirely.

And quite frankly with someone I don't know, if they tell me, "Hey I'm participating in self harm and I'm terrified" my wall is UP. My wall is up because if I'm not already connected to you and you are spiralling into The Chaos-- I don't want my heart mind and soul tied into it. That said, my wall goes up so that I can respond effectively as I've spend a great deal of my life responding to and working with (professionally and personally) people in extreme crisis. My friends all know that I'm the one to call.

They also know that I'm a hermit and I am not the one to call to hang out. I don't do 'hang out' I'm all serious and broody and shit. I don't understand normal social interaction.

I wish I had something more productive to offer, because I feel like the goal--- the goal of expanded connectedness, and expanding a sense of friendship and support during difficult times is one that should NOT be tabled. Even if this idea (mentioned in OP) itself is too problematic, I hope perhaps we could all think about a possible way to encourage the kind of community support this idea had at heart in a different and safer way.
posted by xarnop at 11:23 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I always viewed this less as crisis counseling, which I believe Jessamyn made perfectly clear it wasn't, than peer support. There is a long history of peer support networks, from hotlines to support groups. Granted, peer support groups are usually moderated and hotlines have very well trained volunteers but most often they are not licensed individuals.

I'm not dismissing the possibility of shit hitting proverbial fans, however, I am saying that if we frame this as peer support and have some training available, this can be a useful tool.

Our volunteers on the SoCal AIDS Hotline went through 52 hours of training prior to being certified and though that wouldn't be feasible, obviously, my offer for training and guidelines assistance stands.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:30 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I guess I just wish I had the positive feeling you're experiencing, instead of what seems right now very much like the opposite.

As someone who was against the original idea, Pater's suggested framework convinced me otherwise. It almost seems a shame to shelve the idea now, felt like progress had been made that would keep a lot of people happy with the implementation, while decreasing negative outcomes. All while offering an amazing social element to the site that people could find helpful. WIN WIN.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:31 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ironically, I think there was stronger opposition because the post said: This is not a "Should we do this?" request
posted by smackfu at 11:35 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eideteker: "It's pretty telling in this thread that most of the folks with experience in dealing with the sort of issues mentioned in the post were almost uniformly against it (as it was framed) in some way or another.

Don't view it as too much of a setback.

Why the hell not? Let's be realistic, please. It's a complete setback. It seems unlikely right now that this system will ever see the light of day, in any form. Quite a few people who have spoken up in this thread will obviously think that's for the best.

This was never supposed to be a MeFi crisis hotline. It was really not framed as such. And when people asked for clarification about what the service was supposed to be, no one listened to the explanations given by jessamyn, mathowie and cortex.

An idea was brought to the community and they shot it down. Which, speaking as someone who has contributed both to the ThereIsHelp page and the discussion of this proposal, I find personally frustrating, but okay -- thems the breaks.

But I honestly do not see how this is going to be salvageable, and I don't think it's worth wasting more time trying to turn it into some meaningless gesture that people won't attack.

The people who are now agreeing/supporting with Pater's suggestion are generally not the same ones who were loudly denouncing the original proposal. And his suggestion's not so different from what was originally proposed that it will magically nullify those objections. Multiple people in this thread have said that they object to a formal system on Metafilter that facilitates communication between members about various difficult issues. I honestly do not see how modifying the original proposal so that isn't a concern is going to be possible.

This thread overall has been really positive,

No, it hasn't.

jack_mo: "I cannot fucking believe this is even being proposed, let alone getting a largely favourable response."

Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry: "I think this is a bad idea. I think it is so bad that I will, right here, make a standing offer to assist anyone who is harmed by this to obtain pro bono legal help as recourse, after they are harmed. Just MeMail this account."

OmieWise: " This is by far the shittiest thing written in this thread. You should be ashamed of yourself. Not subscribing to your worldview does not make folks bad people. Not agreeing with you, or this idea, does not reveal darkness in the heart of the dissenters. Maybe if you acted more like an adult people would take your views more seriously."

And worse.

with the vast majority of people supporting the intent if not the execution of the proposal.

No, what most of them have said is that it's a compassionate idea but not a good one.

The consensus is that MeFites are really nice, helpful people.

Sure, except for the ones who give shitty advice in AskMe. Or the ones who are too emotionally damaged to be allowed to help others.

No, there's no consensus that MeFites are really nice, helpful people.

And we maintained a consistently high level of dialogue here.

See above.

Pater Aletheias has a good suggestion. Standardize some kind of area on the profile for people to put down subjects about which they are open to talk. This way, it's in the same place on every profile, and people know where to look. Folks need to know what to expect. You may want a way to aggregate people who are available to talk about x, sorted by recent activity. But I think that's the extent to which it should go.

This is not materially different than what was originally proposed.

So take some time, don't get discouraged, and come back swinging.

There is no point in wasting more time on this.
posted by zarq at 11:36 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can add me to the list of people who really like Pater Aletheias' idea. I also liked Mudpuppie's initial idea, but that does seem a bit harder to implement.
posted by rjs at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2011


For people who are expressing reservation it might help to specify scenarios of explosion. I can describe one.

As I understand it (I am a dilettante) a domestic violence victim cannot be helped out of their situation without their own volition--if they do not want help decisively and unambiguously you cannot help them. I have met people (more than two) who are purportedly trained in this area who do not get this. This is astonishing to me. I thought they told you in the first hour of training that if you try and go overboard helping somebody in this situation you can easily abet them getting murdered.

I am not arguing against a done-deal here which I agree is well-intentioned. I do think some more forethought may help improve it or minimize unintended bad consequences.
posted by bukvich at 11:46 AM on July 26, 2011


It's not really the tabling of a specific implementation or approach that has me feeling less than positive. It's the constant repetition in this thread of the notion that, actually, people shouldn't talk to their untrained friends. People are a danger to their friends; they will traumatize their friends when their friends are inevitably unable to help. Their friends are a danger to them; their friends will, inevitably, cause irreparable harm through bad, untrained advice. You and your friends, through lack of intensive training, will irrevocably fuck each other up. And once you do, as you are going to, a lawyer will swoop in and help you guys sue each other.

And that's not just random people on the internet talking; that's coming from qualified, respected members of the aid community and of this one, and it appears to be the prevailing view of much of this site. I don't know how not to be alienated by that. My view of how societies can work appears to be so at odds with so many people I respect that I don't know what to say about it. The prevailing view here appears to be that people with problems need to sequester themselves to professional interaction, lest they cause harm to themselves and others. I don't know how to feel anything but isolated by that, and I don't know how to turn that into feeling positive about the goodwill of this community.
posted by Errant at 11:46 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, from the comments in here, we apparently shouldn't even be allowed to say "MeMail me if you want to talk" in Ask, since that is functionally all this system was ever supposed to be.
posted by Gator at 11:51 AM on July 26, 2011


Ironically, I think there was stronger opposition because the post said: This is not a "Should we do this?" request

Yeah, that turned it into a pretty urgent matter for those of us who saw problems with the idea.

jack_mo: "I cannot fucking believe this is even being proposed, let alone getting a largely favourable response."

I apologise for that - what I meant was that I was utterly shocked by the plan and couldn't believe people weren't seeing the pitfalls, but reading it back it comes off more as 'Waaa! You're all idiots!'. Sorry.
posted by jack_mo at 11:53 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was never supposed to be a MeFi crisis hotline. It was really not framed as such.

People in support of this idea keep saying this, but it's demonstrably not true. Reread the original post here:
The sections we're thinking about generally include

- Talk to me about anything, or...

- Substance Abuse (alcohol, drugs, addictions)
- Rape/Harassment/Domestic Abuse
- Mental Health Issues (anxiety, depression, therapy)
- GLBTQ concerns

We know we could have a dozen categories and that people are going to want finer granularity here, but this is something that we feel needs to be fairly concise. It's also not for just chitchatting about problem topics [children, pets, neighbors] it's supposed to be more or less "I am in danger/crisis and I need someone to talk to about X"
I have no idea what that describes if not a "Mefi crisis hotline." Even just the reference to Bill Zeller makes the link fairly clear.

And when people asked for clarification about what the service was supposed to be, no one listened to the explanations given by jessamyn, mathowie and cortex.

It's really hard to overcome the original framing here, and as I said in one of my comments, it's hard to see how this would have much value outside of that framing. I also think the protestations by mathowie, for instance, are naive, and given the originally proposed setup, uncheckable.

It's the constant repetition in this thread of the notion that, actually, people shouldn't talk to their untrained friends. People are a danger to their friends; they will traumatize their friends when their friends are inevitably unable to help. Their friends are a danger to them; their friends will, inevitably, cause irreparable harm through bad, untrained advice.

This is also an unfair and disingenuous precis of the discussion in this thread. The point is specifically that this is not friends talking to friends, or even just reaching out to other people at MetaFilter, this was presented as a quasi-official (and therefore sanctioned), but completely unregulated, system to connect people in crisis with people who might be able to help them in that crisis. A system like that implies expertise that friends talking to friends does not. A system like that is not even regulated by the strictures of friendship.
posted by OmieWise at 11:54 AM on July 26, 2011 [15 favorites]


Yeah, from the comments in here, we apparently shouldn't even be allowed to say "MeMail me if you want to talk" in Ask, since that is functionally all this system was ever supposed to be.

This is completely untrue. It's false, and it casts those with reservations about this as people who are concerned about nothing. The system is much more formal, much more sanctioned, and much more problematic than "MeMail me if you want to talk." I have written that in threads, I have had those kinds of conversations with people who have reached out. That is not this.
posted by OmieWise at 11:56 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


zarq, with respect, I feel like I understand at least partially where you're at, at the moment, because I've been super-frustrated with MeFi too before.

Please, as one of the people so invested in this idea, going to this other extreme that it's not salvageable at all is very understandable but I think driven more by frustration than truth.

Framing and initial feedback have always heavily influenced reaction in MeFi. You can see that throughout this thread here:
1) this was presented as "it's already going to happen"
2) most people hadn't heard about it before
3) MeFi tends to come down pessimistically hard on things initially (why rock the boat?)
4) extreme voices get heard more than moderate ones
5) people want to protect Metafilter itself and its members from fallout & trouble - this is a good impulse!
6) overall I'm seeing a lot of people that support the intent of the idea, no question

It would be very discouraging to let a great idea of facilitating peer support and strengthening this community fall by the wayside because the loud negatives are having more of an impact than the quieter positive work of tweaking it so it's broadly acceptable.
posted by flex at 11:58 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like to apologize to prefpara and Errant for my rude statements last night. I felt then, and I feel now, that you have misrepresented the arguments of those who had concerns about this, that that misrepresentation was disingenuous and harmed the discussion, and that it was insulting and meant to rhetorically demean arguments that you chose not to address on their substance. I could have said those things without being insulting, though, and for that I apologize.
posted by OmieWise at 11:59 AM on July 26, 2011


Here's the thing: this is not a system to encourage people to talk to their friends. It is not about me coming up to people chatting in the street and telling them to cut it out and stop supporting each other or I'm going to sue them.

If it were friends talking to each other, then categorizations, filters, or anything like a search feature would not be needed. The involvement and implied recommendation and approval from the site would not be needed. People are already free to memail back and forth and ask and answer anonymous Askmes about any number of topics. People are free to make friends here and support each other.

I am dismayed that this is being percieved as people who simply don't want other people to have help or community, or as paranoia. The vast majority of people objecting to this are people who have dedicated a significant amount of time and energy into helping other people, either on a time-intensive volunteer basis or as a profession. They, too, care about fellow mefites.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:01 PM on July 26, 2011 [11 favorites]


The system is much more formal, much more sanctioned, and much more problematic than "MeMail me if you want to talk."

You just admitted you can't divorce yourself from jessamyn's unfortunate original framing, which is what helped torpedo this whole thing. Take away all the "crisis" framing and see it as what it was originally described as in the Bill Zeller thread -- a page listing MeFites who have volunteered to be a listening ear to someone who just needs to talk, and nothing more.
posted by Gator at 12:02 PM on July 26, 2011


"Help" vs "talk" makes all the difference.
posted by smackfu at 12:03 PM on July 26, 2011


originally described as in the Bill Zeller thread -- a page listing MeFites who have volunteered to be a listening ear to someone who just needs to talk, and nothing more.

I think it's you who cannot divorce yourself from some other thing when thinking about this one. This was something more. There's almost a page of description at the top of this thread about that something more. The thing you're talking about is something different, but you keep saying it's the same.
posted by OmieWise at 12:06 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


And after objections started being raised at the top of the thread, jessamyn and others agreed that the "crisis" framing was a poor choice of words, but you don't seem to want to think or read past that at all. Again, if you remove that framing, what's the problem?
posted by Gator at 12:08 PM on July 26, 2011


It turns out there is a sort of cabal, but even they can't change MeFI.
posted by smackfu at 12:12 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


OmieWise, that's the second time in three minutes you've accused me of speaking in bad faith and accusing others of having bad intentions without addressing substance. I've addressed specific concerns, I've laid out plainly that I am not accusing others of anything but the best of intentions on any side of the discussion, and lately I've just been describing my reactions to things I've read here. If I'm misunderstanding what people are saying, feel free to correct me. But an "apology" that assumes that, rather than having a different reading or reaction, rather than struggling with some very strong feelings about the way this discussion has gone, I must be trying to call everyone a willful and dark-hearted asshole? That's not, frankly, much of a fucking apology.

I really don't know what I've done here to deserve the shit you've thrown at me, but it's pretty fucking unpleasant.
posted by Errant at 12:15 PM on July 26, 2011


Omiewise--- I understand where you and others are coming from and I think those problems are quite real and really do make the proposed original idea an impossibility. Those who voiced deep concerns about the proposed idea, were voicing concerns out of compassion for people who might get hurt. It's alwasy a kind gesture to apologize for tone or harsh sounding words--- but the passion of opposition to this idea was at heart equally out of compassion for the well being of others and there is nothing to apologize for in that.

And zarq-- for the sanity of the hearts and minds of those who original wanted this idea to happen-- I do think this idea itself probably needs to be shelved and probably those who were working on it will need a breather from trying to do anything at all.

That said--- ultimately--- the goal BEHIND the idea is good. It is inherently good and with that passion and desire to improve lives-- I believe there are things that CAN be done. Things that will make even more impact than the ThereisHelp board (which was in itself, I believe, a meaningful and worthwhile endeavor.)

What if, we created a discussion platform for people who are professionally or personally or otherwise invested in community cohesiveness, peer support, improving community access to mental health/crisis/other services, and in community projects to improve the lives of human beings in general to share ideas about why access to support is so hard, what obstacles people with "big issues" face, why the isolation is so common, and what could be done to make a difference? What if like the "music" and "jobs" sections of metafilter, there were a section called, "activism" or "volunteering" or SOMETHING devoted to people asking questions and offering ideas of community projects, non-profits, social change, community support, peer support, buddy systems etc--- with the intent of improving professionals knowledge of what "the system" is getting wrong and improving the understanding that those facing a seemingly failed system have of what such professionals are facing.

What if we created a section where mefites could collaborate with their varying personal and professional experiences to create community projects of their own to change the world? What if neurobiologists and social workers and educators and physicists could hop in to share their ideas with each other with the direct purpose of enhancing the lives of human beings? Think how many smart compassionate people there are on this site? Think how much potential there is to do good?

Uh, of course, if you leave me in charge we'll all be creating family style playgrounds with adult size swings and FAIRYLANDS, and cheap fast food restaurants with healthy meals, and community services to help people manage their homes and childhood enrichment programs for lower income families and and and!!! So you know, I get a little excited and start thinking too big sometimes... lol.
posted by xarnop at 12:16 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course, if you want to be negative, it's easy to find examples of negative comments in this thread. Overall, though, most of the objections were worded politely, and out of concern (the same kind of concern that drove the suggestion in the first place). If you're going to focus on a few negative exchanges, of course the discussion looks fighty. It looks fighty because you're looking for fighty comments. My point was that jessamyn, when she said she was tabling this, may have been focusing on that. Because really, we're a whole lot closer now than we were when we started this discussion, and I view that as a positive thing.

Of course, my original "don't be discouraged" was to Jessamyn. You're free to be as discouraged as you want to be. My advice is don't put too much effort into it.
posted by Eideteker at 12:19 PM on July 26, 2011


flex: " Please, as one of the people so invested in this idea, going to this other extreme that it's not salvageable at all is very understandable but I think driven more by frustration than truth.

Well, let me put it a different way....

No suggestions have been made yet (with the possible exception upon preview of xarnop's?) that would counter or alleviate most or all of the various objections that have been raised to the original proposal.

It would be very discouraging to let a great idea of facilitating peer support and strengthening this community fall by the wayside because the loud negatives are having more of an impact than the quieter positive work of tweaking it so it's broadly acceptable."

I agree. I'm just not seeing how any tweak would somehow change the proposal enough that the idea would keep its purpose and not be trashed.
posted by zarq at 12:30 PM on July 26, 2011


Errant,

My apology was for the tone of my original comment about you last night. I still have objections to the content. I read your long explanatory post, saying it was my misreading and not your intent that was the problem, but I was unconvinced by it. The post that sparked my own insulting post implied that the opinions expressed in this thread are an example of the kinds of things that cause people to suffer in silence. I find that a highly insulting and contentious statement not supported by the evidence. There are no comments suggesting that people in crisis should not get help, no comments disparaging those with mental illnesses or substance abuse issues. There are only objections to the specifics of one possible system for ameliorating some of those things. Those objections are offered here in good faith (though with varying degrees of alarm).

My comment more directly above where I point out that you are misrepresenting the content and tone of the discussion here is just that. You're contention that people are objecting to friends talking to friends is not borne out by the evidence in this thread. Again, by resorting to hyperbole you weaken any argument you may have had.

It's clear from the comments you made last night that you've been struggling a bit, and that perhaps that has colored your feelings about what has been said in this thread. Certainly my own feelings about this have colored my take on the thread. I apologize for not controlling my feelings better and becoming insulting. You might take a look at how your feelings are coloring your rhetoric.
posted by OmieWise at 12:32 PM on July 26, 2011


OmieWise: " It's really hard to overcome the original framing here, and as I said in one of my comments, it's hard to see how this would have much value outside of that framing.

The mods have quite clearly backed away from the original framing. The concept has moved away from that point.

The mods subsequently said the following:

jessamyn: "We should make it more clear that this is a way to find someone to talk to and not a way to actually "get help" which is exactly the sort of small-but-important point that's really important here. We can clarify that in the FAQ and elsewhere. While the ThereIsHelp page on the wiki is actually supposed to help people find trained professionals, this is more for people to find someone to talk to who is NOT a trained professional but may be slightly less anonymous to them than a random person on the street or slightly more anonymous than the friend they're having a hard time talking to."

jessamyn: This is not supposed to be like therapy, a suicide hotline, talking to a doctor, or anything else along those lines. It's supposed to facilitate people who are in a tough spot being able to talk to another plain-old-user.
...
...but I'm also well aware that we have a lot of people in this community who have dealt with some difficult shit and who might be able to share some advice, knowledge, or a friendly ear for someone who could use it. I do see it more as a "Hey I've got some experience in this area, MeMail me if you want" comment in AskMe, only available on a more regular basis. Probably crisis is the wrong word."

jessamyn: " As I said above, we're backing off on the "in crisis" language and a few other things that seem to be problematic here. People are already using AskMe and other less formal options for this sort of thing. I know there are some people who are actively opposed to this, I'd appreciate if they could work with us to find a way to make this work legitimately [and yeah the same way that having a little "safe space" or whatever sticker on your door works not as an "I am a counselor"]. Is there a way saying "I'm available to talk about anxiety issues and/or drunk parents" note on your profile would?"

mathowie: "This idea isn't to offer counseling in any way, shape, or form. It isn't even formal enough to offer advice. It's just a way users can make it clear they volunteer to talk and listen to others about issues. .... It's not a claim for counseling, hopefully if someone hears a story from another that is serious, they would direct that user to real, actual, licensed help."
posted by zarq at 12:42 PM on July 26, 2011


Eideteker: "Of course, if you want to be negative, it's easy to find examples of negative comments in this thread. Overall, though, most of the objections were worded politely, and out of concern (the same kind of concern that drove the suggestion in the first place). If you're going to focus on a few negative exchanges, of course the discussion looks fighty. It looks fighty because you're looking for fighty comments.

I didn't have to hunt for them. They are here, in the thread. And I believe they quite clearly dominated at least a portion of this discussion.

My point was that jessamyn, when she said she was tabling this, may have been focusing on that. Because really, we're a whole lot closer now than we were when we started this discussion, and I view that as a positive thing.

This concept does not seem any closer to implementation than it did before a single comment was made in the thread.
posted by zarq at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is that after initial objections, the language was pulled back a bit, but the concept and execution seemed to remain essentially the same. Re-naming it doesn't fix the underlying problems. A huge overhaul and change in focus might.

You can take a fractured leg and decide not to call it fractured anymore, but that doesn't mean that walking on it is a great idea.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:50 PM on July 26, 2011


Its really hard to separate out a system where one user is looking for an ear and another is providing an ear from more professional approaches and I think its that dynamic, and not necessarily the framing of the thread, that leads to a lot of the objections in this thread.

A system where one user talks/looks for support or comfort or guidance and another listens/helps/guides is inherently problematic when taken out of the dynamic of people being friends. Friends help each other because of who they are. In the dynamic this idea suggests they help because the person is a fellow mefite. There is nothing wrong with helping someone because they are a fellow member of MeFi but it does create a relationship that is different from a friend talking to a friend.

I like the idea of community members helping one another and forming a sense of community where people can discuss sensitive issues but i think it needs to move away from a one to one dynamic where one person is the provider of help/an ear etc.

I've love to see small groups of people come together in private threads to talk about issues. three or four people could get together and discuss a topic and become friends/share common experiences/and have a conversation. It wouldn't serve to help people in crisis but it would help to build bonds with others on the site and form friendships and a sense of community.

I think to there has to be a divide between subjects such as suicide, mental health problems where the person is in crisis and topics such as breastfeeding and career concerns. One is a topic that is much more fraught than another and I think there are many topics where a sense of community could be build around where a conversation would be more beneficial than an askme. The harder subjects I think there needs to be a divide between people in mediate need and people who want to work through the long term effects of an issue and I think the former may not be as easy or as appropriate than the later.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 12:54 PM on July 26, 2011


the young rope-rider : "The problem is that after initial objections, the language was pulled back a bit, but the concept and execution seemed to remain essentially the same. Re-naming it doesn't fix the underlying problems. A huge overhaul and change in focus might."

Yes. Which is why I have said several times now that we've made no progress and that the concept as it stands is unsalvageable.
posted by zarq at 12:57 PM on July 26, 2011


You know, for a while a few months ago I spent more time on the Lazy Stupid and Godless forum at Ravelry than here. Partially, LSG often had strikingly similar posts to Mefi and AskMe, but the tone, surprisingly, was far more supportive. Lots of users posted personal things about having difficulty breaking up with boyfriends or abusive husbands, much like sometimes appear on AskMe, but it was amazing how that community, with no formal protocol for such things in place, immediately went into "help" mode offering compassionate advice and their own personal stories not to mention concrete offers to do things like pack belongings or just stop by with some dinner so the OP doesn't have to worry about what to feed the kids. (And yes I've seen legal advice doled out there). While I've seen lots of things on Ask (and maybe this happens more through memail) I haven't seen as much in terms of that kind of a supportive community for the community as a whole. I've already said, several times, how much the resistance to this idea saddens me, but it makes me particularly upset to see a younger community pull this off without even having protocols in place.

Recently, VERY recently, I was close to pushing the big red button. I pulled back, but between this incident and that one I'm thinking I just need to hang out more with the LSG Hoars. I've been a member here for 10 years. I really did expect more.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:01 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


The two things aren't the same. Just because the exact concept that you want to be implemented is not going to be implemented does not mean that no progress has been made, or that you need to convince everyone that this is a completely hopeless and negative situation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:02 PM on July 26, 2011


(That was directed at zarq)
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:02 PM on July 26, 2011


the young rope-rider : "The two things aren't the same. Just because the exact concept that you want to be implemented is not going to be implemented does not mean that no progress has been made

Are we any closer to an implementable solution than we were when this concept was first raised?

Are even a slim majority of people who so loudly denounced the original idea of a MeFi-sanctioned, user support system come out in favor of any of the other, MeFi-sanctioned, user support systems that have been subsequently proposed?

...or that you need to convince everyone that this is a completely hopeless and negative situation.

I'm thinking out loud. And not speaking to "everyone." Merely the people I'm responding to.

Honestly, I would like to be proven wrong.
posted by zarq at 1:07 PM on July 26, 2011


the young rope-rider

He's not the only who thinks it's hopeless at this point. I certainly do nor do I feel much progress has been made. It's perfectly possible that I am wrong, and I hope I am, but yeah not feeling inspired or upbeat.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:08 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just don't think it's helpful to go on about how hopeless it is now. I believe the idea still has legs. Come on champs/sports/lil' campers!
posted by sweetkid at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2011


Considering jessamyn's highly discouraged and discouraging comment that she doesn't feel like starting from scratch at this point, feeling that it's hopeless doesn't seem to be much of an overreaction.
posted by Gator at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I get why people are disappointed. I know that I would be upset if I had worked on something for a while, expected it to go off without a hitch, and then been faced with a significant negative reaction that led to it being scrapped. It must feel like a slap in the face. However, a lot of people agree with the spirit behind the proposal and I think that that is significant and positive and speaks to the potential for something good to come from this.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:13 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is a group called Compassionate Friends that provides an online support group for people who have lost a child. The online support group is just made up of others who have suffered that loss. There are appropriate disclaimers, etc., that these are not professionals. I'm wondering if we could use their already existing model to make this concept more feasible?
posted by misha at 1:15 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read your long explanatory post, saying it was my misreading and not your intent that was the problem, but I was unconvinced by it.

Ok. I don't know how to convince you other than saying more clearly what I meant.

The post that sparked my own insulting post implied that the opinions expressed in this thread are an example of the kinds of things that cause people to suffer in silence.


I do not think they are things that cause people to suffer in silence. I think some of the things in this thread are the kinds of things that convince people that they have to or ought to. There is a distinction with a difference there. I have further explained that I do not think that that comes from malicious motives, just that people who suffer in silence are, as you assuredly know, predisposed to thinking that has to continue, and I found that there was a lot in this thread to reinforce those convictions personally. There's my evidence, if you like. I'm only, as ever, speaking for me.

You're contention that people are objecting to friends talking to friends is not borne out by the evidence in this thread.

I disagree. Here's a few quotes:

I'm not a professional, but before I could become a crisis volunteer whose main function was active listening and options counseling, I had to go through forty hours of training. That training showed us how to listen the right way. It showed us that saying things even with the best of intentions can actually do harm. We talked about a lot of examples and the consequences.

I thought I didn't need training because I was so dedicated to the program when I started. I was convinced the training was necessary by the time I finished. Active listening is a skill that goes against intuition in so many ways.


--

So there we go again, with a bunch of untrained (though awesomely well-intentioned) people who will be in over their heads. Which can actively cause harm.

--

I'm concerned about harm to both the seekers and the helpers. Especially the helpers, actually.

--

Now, I have said explicitly that those are valid concerns. I have not disputed that at all. Maybe we're using the word "friend" differently or something, or maybe you and I have a different view of the kind of relationship that fits that label. But the message here has repeatedly been: seek assistance from people with training, avoid if possible seeking it from people without training. When the emphasis is so firmly placed on training, I fail to see how the status of a friendship matters. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

You might take a look at how your feelings are coloring your rhetoric.

Maybe this is the other problem. I'm not engaging in rhetoric. The debate is over; the motion is tabled. I'm not making an argument or a point. My feelings are entirely coloring my statements, because my last few comments have just been about my emotional reactions and readings of what I've seen here. I took a lot of care to use words like "appears", "seems", etc., because I don't think that how I read things is necessarily how things are. You, Eideteker, others clearly have a different reading of what went on here, as, again, I said explicitly. I don't know how to reconcile those views. That doesn't mean I doubt the validity of yours.

I'm probably wrong about all of this. The only thing I'm pretty sure I'm not wrong about is how alienated your comments and this thread in general have made me feel, because I don't think I can be wrong about that. Since that's all I've been talking about for a while, I'm not sure why you are so insistent that I must be making some underhanded stab at my political opponents or whatever. I'm not sure how many more times I can say that I don't doubt the good intentions of anyone in this community. But if you want me to say that this discussion has made me feel good about my ability to be welcomed by this community or to be supported by it, I can't say so truthfully. If you want me to leave my feelings out of it entirely, then I guess I won't have much more to say.
posted by Errant at 1:18 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


sweetkid: "I just don't think it's helpful to go on about how hopeless it is now. I believe the idea still has legs. Come on champs/sports/lil' campers!"

flex: "Framing and initial feedback have always heavily influenced reaction in MeFi. You can see that throughout this thread here:
1) this was presented as "it's already going to happen"
2) most people hadn't heard about it before
3) MeFi tends to come down pessimistically hard on things initially (why rock the boat?)
4) extreme voices get heard more than moderate ones
5) people want to protect Metafilter itself and its members from fallout & trouble - this is a good impulse!
6) overall I'm seeing a lot of people that support the intent of the idea, no question
"

the young rope-rider : "However, a lot of people agree with the spirit behind the proposal and I think that that is significant and positive and speaks to the potential for something good to come from this."

At this point, considering Jessamyn's comment earlier in the thread, it's likely that the only way that could happen would be if the community were to establish, debate and then offer a workable, alternative concept to management that takes the objections that have been raised into consideration.

Only, many of the concerns raised have been against the whole idea. So how are you all suggesting we proceed?
posted by zarq at 1:21 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Tabled for the time being" is what I said which is accurate. I think I was overestimating my own ability to wrassle with objections to this idea and as I said, it didn't have the support I had thought it did. I'll think on it. We'll talk later.

I talk a little when I talk about technology about the idea of technostress, the idea that you have to learn some sort of technology for work or whatever and you feel pressured to learn something that you think is outside of your competency range and you need to do it. It creates levels of stress that are different from just learning something new, and different just from being told to do something new at work, it's an interesting animal. I'm usually immune to it, not today.

I have felt continual pressure to work something out in the wake of Bill Zeller's death and a lot of people's totally understandable ootchy feelings about all of that. It's quite painful to learn that someone felt that they had no one to listen to and you feel like you were able to listen, if only you'd known. At the same time, my job as "person who writes back to the people who write suicide questions in the Anon AskMe question form saying we can't approve their question" is already sticking me too far into someplace I have no real business being, as I think a lot of us are when we're confronted with someone we know in a bad situation and for whatever reason is not getting the help they need. I wanted to take this off of my "to do" list and, again, was unclear on the level of not-okay this would be with people, and the level of support I'd thought I'd had. Similar to the favorites thing a few years ago, it's easy to mistake a dozen or two dozen very eager people for community support.

So that was the kernel of the idea, a way to say "I'm here to listen" shaped over time with people talking to me [and me talking to the mod team] about how to indicate that, how to not make it a MeFi-mediated thing, how to make it clear without being onerous and how to have it be something that's helpful and would make people feel better, not worse. However, I personally do not have the ability to manage or deal with the rancor that's sprung up here and I'm putting it on my "to revisit later" list, personally.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:24 PM on July 26, 2011 [11 favorites]


So how are you all suggesting we proceed?

What about Pater Aletheias' idea? An open field in the profile where people can say, hey, I'm open to discussing: cats, my experience with substance abuse, anger, cooking, etc.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:26 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's fine, it's just not very different from the initial suggestion to me. It's just an open text box where the original idea was structured categories.
posted by sweetkid at 1:32 PM on July 26, 2011


Errant, you quoted my talking about working with domestic violence victims. I was talking specifically about the kind of listening I did as a volunteer meeting face to face with strangers to talk about crimes after they occurred.

Friends talking through problems have a totally different relationship. You have background information and a better sense of your own limits as a friend and what the talker's strengths are. You have a history. There's less chance I'm going to say something that could be misunderstood and less chance the talker is going to take the conversation in a direction that could hurt me.

When you're talking to someone in an anonymous setting, no matter how good your intentions are, you can find yourself in over your head really quickly.

I'm sorry you feel that my words make it harder for you to find help. I just want to echo what a few other people have said. There is a difference in communication between friends and between people who self-select to provide support on a given topic and people who want support. I feel that the latter needs oversight and training for the safety of everyone involved.
posted by vincele at 1:34 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is a group called Compassionate Friends that provides an online support group for people who have lost a child. The online support group is just made up of others who have suffered that loss. There are appropriate disclaimers, etc., that these are not professionals. I'm wondering if we could use their already existing model to make this concept more feasible?

If we go that route (which does work lots of online places), then we're essentially talking about creating user forums. I gather that's a direction admin/mods (members?) have not wanted to go in the past, which is why there are MeCha, MonkeyFilter, etc. How do people feel about that?
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:38 PM on July 26, 2011


ThePinkSuperhero: " What about Pater Aletheias' idea? An open field in the profile where people can say, hey, I'm open to discussing: cats, my experience with substance abuse, anger, cooking, etc."

As sweetkid says, it's really not much different in concept than the original system. And by giving a space to it, it would be both MeFi-sanctioned, and making a connection between people who don't have professional training with people who may be looking for helpful advice.

Earlier in this thread you said that there are Mefites who should not be giving advice because they aren't emotionally healthy. Can Pater's idea be modified to help alleviate that concern?
posted by zarq at 1:40 PM on July 26, 2011


Errant,
I’ll try to keep this short because I don’t know what’s gained by us going back and forth about this. It’s clear to me that you and I have fundamentally different readings of what was said in this thread, and of the import of those statements. I can see how your reading leads you to your conclusions, but I think those conclusions do a disservice to the community of people who engaged in this debate. I hold that view regardless of any intent inherent (or not) in your readings. I suspect we will have to agree to disagree about this.

The only thing I'm pretty sure I'm not wrong about is how alienated your comments and this thread in general have made me feel, because I don't think I can be wrong about that.

Well, I felt badly about my behavior before, and I certainly feel more badly now. I’m profoundly sorry if my bad behavior makes you feel alienated. I would urge you to think of me as a lone jerk whose views are his own, and insupportable. As I said above, I wish I had not resorted to insult, and I’m sorry I did. My comments were strictly about your comment and were not meant to imply or suggest anything about you as a person, even if it seems different.

I know I said we would have to agree to disagree about our mutual interpretations here, but I would really urge you to revisit your conclusions about being “welcomed by this community or to be supported by it.” I don’t read anything in this thread that suggests that people should not reach out to other community members, I read nothing that suggests that members do not want to help and support other members. The discussion here, I believe, has been about how to do that, not whether to do that. I understand that people who liked this proposal are disappointed that it won’t be moving forward right now, but I don’t think that’s because anyone here doesn’t want people to get the support they need from this community.
posted by OmieWise at 1:40 PM on July 26, 2011


Anyone who thinks some version of this is still possible (and I think it could be):

- What do you think of something like Pater Alethias's suggestion of a note in the profile, but NOT an "official" designation (like a badge) or a formalized team of helpers or other site sanction? Would that model deliver the benefits while minimizing the drawbacks?

- Suppose something like this plan were implemented. Do you have ideas about what processes to put in place to alleviate some of the worries mentioned upthread, such as "what should I do if someone contacts me and is suicidal or delusional?" (I am asking this question sincerely, because I think we should have some plan for those cases, but I have no idea what such a plan might be. Does anyone else have any concrete thoughts about what to do in that case?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:41 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


zarq, I think the fill-in-the-blank field would give much less appearance of "mefi sanctioned" listener status than the original proposal (badge, part of a team of helpers, etc). I think there's a significant difference in perceived level of authority, and that the fill-in-the-blank field would be an improvement in a way that matters.

I'm not sure it gets us all the way there, but I do think it's a significant improvement.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:44 PM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


LobsterMitten took the words out of my hands.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:44 PM on July 26, 2011


Hah, I was just writing the same thing.
posted by flex at 1:45 PM on July 26, 2011


Gotcha, LobsterMitten. I have to say I agree.
posted by sweetkid at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2011


me too.
posted by Think_Long at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2011


And I want to say generally to the people who are feeling like this discussion means "don't reach out" - I want to give you a hug and say, please don't feel that way. None of this is about what any of us would do one-on-one if you reached out to us... Just like you would do your very best for someone else who reached out to you, I think everyone here would do their very best for you if you were in a hard spot -- to remind you that you're valuable, and you have more resilience than you sometimes think, that you can get through the hard place, that it sucks while you're going through it, etc -- and to give you the sunlight that you deserve.

But if we are thinking of formalizing a system that is meant to help us when we're at our most vulnerable, we should think it through carefully. I really think that's 90% of what's going on here, and I hope that we can focus on that - the positive, careful, part where we are all working together.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:52 PM on July 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


As well, a site-wide way for people to say they are open to MeMails just makes the community overall feel friendlier and more approachable. AskMeFi is clearly powered by people who want to help, but just because you've noticed user X is always giving great advice in the threads about Y doesn't mean you'll make that leap to MeMail user X with your specific, private Y issue - you don't want to bother them! Yet you don't want to draw attention to yourself with asking a question for everyone to see.

I think sometimes people who are much more participatory in the site forget or don't see how intimidating it can be for many users to so much as make a comment, much less ask for help with anything big or small. Facilitating personal connections would benefit the site, I think, not just individual people.
posted by flex at 1:53 PM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I’m profoundly sorry if my bad behavior makes you feel alienated.

That's an apology I can accept and do so gratefully. Thank you for saying so.

I'll keep mine short too. I like it here, and I don't like that this conversation has shaken (though not destroyed) my faith in the community, whether or not that seems warranted. I haven't made any decisions yet, and I'm not flaming out regardless. I'm going to take some time and try to parse through this conversation and figure out where I'm at with it. I agree that the discussion has never been about whether members want to help, but it seems to me that it has largely revolved around whether members are able to help, with a lot of opinion that maybe, regrettably, they're not. I'm going to think about it.
posted by Errant at 1:54 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll stand up here, since we're keeping the discussion to this thread:

In the absence of any formal system for doing so, I'd like to "be the Metafilter I want to see" by offering myself, personally, to anyone who needs someone to talk with. I have experience with depression, anxiety, and disability issues. (I have cerebral palsy.) I'm not a professional of any sort. I simply want to make my own availability known.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 1:54 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Earlier in this thread you said that there are Mefites who should not be giving advice because they aren't emotionally healthy.

Zarq, I could be wrong but I feel like you keep bringing this point up as though you disagree. Do you not see how this could be problematic?
posted by moxiedoll at 1:55 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's problematic, but there are all kinds of people who don't have their *personal* emotional house in order always but can separate that from providing help to others. I worked on a crisis hotline at a time when my personal house was really less than great and I got my certification and was working on the phones, so...I do think I was helpful.
posted by sweetkid at 2:05 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


moxiedoll: " Zarq, I could be wrong but I feel like you keep bringing this point up as though you disagree. Do you not see how this could be problematic?"

It's not that I disagree so much as I think that if this point is being raised it needs to be addressed fully and not simply be framed as an unsolveable problem. If there's a screening process, will it be handled objectively? Under what criteria?

Personally, I have a great deal of respect for ThePinkSuperhero. I agree that this is something that should be examined, considered and addressed. But at the same time, the way it was sort of dumped into the thread bugged me. Which is why I've brought it up. Gator brought it up again later in the thread, and said that some vetting might be required on the mod side.

I just think that if this is something that needs to be addressed, then we should talk about it. The ability of a volunteer to properly deal with those in need seems like a huge sticking point to a lot of people.
posted by zarq at 2:06 PM on July 26, 2011


I don't see how the moderators could possibly effectively screen people with the time and personpower that they currently have, which is why it's important that the site not be seen as endorsing or recommending certain people.

I also worry quite a bit about the people who would be providing help with no support, no backup, and no training, and providing it in areas that they specifically struggle with. I worry that they will be harmed or that they will have trouble maintaining effective boundaries. I worry about guilt and trauma for those helping--how much of this is already fueled by guilt and distress over a suicide, and how much worse would the repercussions be if someone was even more intimately involved in the situation?
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:17 PM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you block people who aren't "emotionally healthy" from giving advice, you block a large proportion of the people who actually have first-hand experience with various issues.

I chime in on every depression-related AskMe where it seems appropriate to say "here's my experience, here's what I've found helpful, and just FYI I'm still-living proof that it is possible for things to improve", but if people who aren't "emotionally healthy" were blocked from giving advice, I couldn't say anything. I still suffer from depression and probably will my entire life.
posted by Lexica at 2:22 PM on July 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't see how the moderators could possibly effectively screen people with the time and personpower that they currently have, which is why it's important that the site not be seen as endorsing or recommending certain people.

This is my exact concern. If the site is going to endorse or recommend certain folks to provide advice to people in desperate straights, there needs to be a screening mechanism of some kind, which would be too much work for anyone to take on, IMO.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:28 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you block people who aren't "emotionally healthy" from giving advice, you block a large proportion of the people who actually have first-hand experience with various issues.

Of course. And I don't think anyone is 100% "emotionally healthy" (whatever that means) - I'm not, and I don't believe I've ever met any such person. And I don't think anyone in the thread was suggesting that there should be some kind of screening to determine who is "healthy" enough to give advice... but I agree that because there would be no such screening (it's an impossibility) that's a major pitfall of facilitating one-to-one connections.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:29 PM on July 26, 2011


there needs to be a screening mechanism of some kind, which would be too much work for anyone to take on, IMO.

Plus it would become a defacto endorsement of person's abilities, which brings us back to the other major issue most people have with this idea.
posted by Think_Long at 2:30 PM on July 26, 2011


Regarding hopelessness and frustration:

Pretty much any effort I've put into this project has been on the wiki side of things. I've contributed a bit over there, along with a lot of other people. Haven't checked, but believe Jessamyn has done the lion's share of the work on the page, and her passion for wanting to provide a fantastic resource for the community really shines through when you look at it.

Anyway, one of the things I've been trying to do lately is locate helpful rape threads to include on the page. It's been difficult. There aren't that many of them, and the whole topic makes me sick to my stomach. I don't want to read about people's rape experiences because even though they're not graphic in any way they bring up unpleasant memories. And yet. It's important to add them in. Because we never know who might benefit. A thread that might not seem all that important to us could conceivably be a lifeline to someone who desperately needs advice. Who knows they have to deal with what has been done to them, but has no one else to turn to.

One of the threads being added to the wiki is "If my rapist comes after me again, is there any legal weapon (other than a gun) that will stop him?" This was an anonymous post. About 3/4 of the way through the thread, mathowie posted a followup comment from the anonymous OP. Here's an excerpt:
I really appreciate the encouragement and support. Although I don't know any of you, I do feel the strength and love you're sending my way. It helps, so please don't stop.

For those who have been through something like this and really feel my pain, thank you for sharing. During those times where I'm at my lowest and feel completely alone in this, I think of all the brave women (and men) and (worst of all) children who have experienced a rape, and how their situation may have been so much worse than mine, and how they must have felt alone, too. I feel buoyed by the knowledge that I will survive this just like so many other people have survived this--it's not some personal burden that I carry alone.

But I don't want someone to read this post and feel guilty for having been raped in the past and not coming forward. You have to do what's best for you, depending on your circumstances. Sometimes, being told that coming forward is The Right Thing To Do can make you feel like keeping quiet means you're doing something wrong, when you didn't ask to be placed in this position in the first place! So if you feel, for whatever reason, that you can't come forward and report your rapist, it's okay. It doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. But here's the thing: keeping quiet can start to make YOU feel like you did something wrong. I'm a smart girl. Rationally, I knew that I didn't deserve to be raped--no one does. But I was carrying around this huge secret as if I was the one who had committed a crime and couldn't bear for anyone to find out. I felt like I knew I was strong & I'd be okay, so I wasn't protecting myself the way I'd protect someone else. If I witnessed this guy raping a young girl, I wouldn't say to myself the next day "it already happened so there's nothing you can do to help her, better just try to wipe it from your mind." One of the things that made me finally go to the police was forcing myself to think about my rape, but without seeing it through my own eyes as the person being raped. The imaginary me stands in my living room and watches this girl say "No!" to this guy and everything that unfolds after that. It doesn't matter what she's been through in the past or how tough she feels inside, I just want to yell "NO! YOU CANNOT DO THAT TO HER!" and I just want to help her. So I'm working on it. But it's a reminder that sometimes we take better care of other people because we think we're strong enough to handle things others can't. We're all strong, but it's not always as simple as just picking yourself up and brushing yourself off.
An anonymous OP from another rape thread says,
"It's true, it's one of those kinds of situations that you can only ever really understand from the inside out."
Speaking about traumatic experiences is a part of the healing process. So is learning that you're not alone and that others have been where you are, and survived. That There is Help, it's available, and it's okay to reach out for it. And that it's okay to acknowledge and work through your feelings.

I think we could conceivably do a lot of good as a community. Because of that, I'd like to see this work. miss-lapin mentions that at least one other community manages to do it without imploding. Why can't we?
posted by zarq at 2:33 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Isn't her example a forum, where everything is completely visible to other site members?

(And my hunch is that Ravelry skews more female than MeFi, which I can't say wouldn't make a difference.)
posted by smackfu at 2:39 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because of that, I'd like to see this work. miss-lapin mentions that at least one other community manages to do it without imploding. Why can't we?

Because some of you are using the problems of others on mefi to deflect from looking at your own issues, harming them and yourselves in the process.

That clear enough for you ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:41 PM on July 26, 2011


miss-lapin mentions that at least one other community manages to do it without imploding. Why can't we?

Don't we though?

I'm not familiar with Ravelry, so maybe miss-lapin can chime in on the qualitative differences she perceives, but her description doesn't sound that much different than what Ask Me has done on numerous occasions. I've seen plenty of threads where posters in crisis receive personal stories, offers of email correspondence, offers of in-person help, and even financial assistance.
posted by lalex at 2:54 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


miss-lapin mentions that at least one other community manages to do it without imploding. Why can't we?

I feel like this is something we do - and do very well. That example you just gave is an excellent one.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:55 PM on July 26, 2011


some of you are using the problems of others on mefi to deflect from looking at your own issues, harming them and yourselves in the process.

I think that's totally incorrect, and that NOBODY else in this thread is suggesting that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:58 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


zarq: I think we could conceivably do a lot of good as a community. Because of that, I'd like to see this work. miss-lapin mentions that at least one other community manages to do it without imploding. Why can't we?

I'm not a member of Ravelry, but I'd hazard a guess that it's more bonded around a common interest. Knitting, while a broad field, is a lot more limited than MetaFilter.

The closest I've seen on MetaFilter is on MetaTalk: we've come together to support members, but usually someone who is more involved with the community. I've read about people cooking food for other sick or injured MeFites, visiting people to make sure they're doing well. Some times it's strangers helping strangers, but it seems more common that people who have already connected through meetups or whatnot will go that extra mile.

In short: we do help each-other out, but not so frequently. We're probably bigger than Ravelry, and there have been some shady dealings that have soured some on helping people they don't really know.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:00 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


moxiedoll: " I feel like this is something we do - and do very well. That example you just gave is an excellent one."

The reason this proposal was made is there are times when people will not feel comfortable opening up their lives or traumas to a group of people, even anonymously. Where one-on-one interaction is desired.

Ask is great for what it does. But it can be a scary, daunting and even a nerve-wracking experience to bare one's soul to the whole world, even anonymously.
posted by zarq at 3:00 PM on July 26, 2011



LobsterMitten writes "And I want to say generally to the people who are feeling like this discussion means 'don't reach out' - I want to give you a hug and say, please don't feel that way. None of this is about what any of us would do one-on-one if you reached out to us... Just like you would do your very best for someone else who reached out to you, I think everyone here would do their very best for you if you were in a hard spot -- to remind you that you're valuable, and you have more resilience than you sometimes think, that you can get through the hard place, that it sucks while you're going through it, etc -- and to give you the sunlight that you deserve. "

Several people have essentially stated that the person being approached shouldn't provide much more than referral to professional services because of the risk of hurting both the seeker and the seekee. And with the explicit statement that a desire for the seekee to do their best just isn't good enough.
posted by Mitheral at 3:02 PM on July 26, 2011


And yes, zarq, I totally agree with you that " learning that you're not alone and that others have been where you are, and survived" is hugely valuable and is one of the best things about AskMe. (Even more so because threads about terrible experiences often have a BUNCH of people saying "it happened to me, it was terrible, but I have gotten through it and would be happy to talk to you privately".)

So I think we are already doing a lot of good. The wiki page is an amazing resource; you and jessamyn and others who have been building it have made a fantastic and hugely valuable thing. I use it often, to find pointers to particular things, and I know others do too.

And I also think everyone here agrees with you that one-on-one contact could potentially be great and make a big difference to people. But there are some concerns and the question is, can we figure out a system that encourages the one-on-one contact while:

(a) not implying site endorsement/screening/training of listeners, or implying that listeners are "experts" or trained helpers or anything of the kind

(b) having some procedures for untenable contacts (eg if a person in need is WAY beyond our own ability to help; if they are delusional, suicidal, etc)

(c) having some procedures if a listener turns out to be giving terrible advice, being hostile or mean to a person who contacts them etc

Those latter two cases will probably be rare but we still need to figure out how to handle them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:07 PM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


LobsterMitten: "But there are some concerns and the question is, can we figure out a system that encourages the one-on-one contact while:

(a) not implying site endorsement/screening/training of listeners, or implying that listeners are "experts" or trained helpers or anything of the kind

(b) having some procedures for untenable contacts (eg if a person in need is WAY beyond our own ability to help; if they are delusional, suicidal, etc)

(c) having some procedures if a listener turns out to be giving terrible advice, being hostile or mean to a person who contacts them etc
"

I completely agree. What I'm asking is if these are insurmountable concerns. A bunch of people in this thread seem be saying they are. But if not, what can we do to make 'em surmountable?
posted by zarq at 3:11 PM on July 26, 2011


I both admire this idea and am relieved that it's tabled. MetaFilter shouldn't be all things all of the time. This is truly an admirable impulse, but just as MeFi isn't set up for dating or freecycling, we're not set up for this kind of help service either.

I also think it would be plenty easy for users who are open to chatting about difficult subjects to put a note in their own profiles saying "Feel free to message me about [X]" without any formal structure or icon or Batsignal or whatever.
posted by sonika at 3:20 PM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


sgt.serenity: " Because some of you are using the problems of others on mefi to deflect from looking at your own issues, harming them and yourselves in the process."

It seems a little silly for anyone to assume they know what a given person's intentions and motivations for doing anything are without bothering to ask them.

Also, can you point to an actual instance of harm being inflicted on anyone by this tabled proposal?
posted by zarq at 3:22 PM on July 26, 2011


several people have said... desire for the seekee to do their best just isn't good enough.

Well, yes. My point was that at an individual level I think we all would want someone in a hard spot to reach out, and we would want to do our very best for them. So if anyone is reading this who is debating whether to reach out -- I hope they will not be dissuaded by what people have said here. Because on an individual level, we want to give people a shoulder to cry on, a friendly ear, and do our best to help them through darkness - since goodness knows, we all have been in those dark spots and needed that help ourselves.

BUT - Here we are talking about formalizing a system for connecting people, within the context of this website, etc. When introducing such a system, we need to consider what happens in (the rare) cases where just wanting to help and being as kind and open and good-spirited as possible isn't enough.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:24 PM on July 26, 2011


sonika: " I also think it would be plenty easy for users who are open to chatting about difficult subjects to put a note in their own profiles saying "Feel free to message me about [X]" without any formal structure or icon or Batsignal or whatever."

Without either a search or list function it would be worse than useless. There are 100,000+ MeFite profile pages, and they're not searchable.
posted by zarq at 3:24 PM on July 26, 2011


So yeah, then I think a searchable tag function would suit this purpose quite nicely, just as originally intended. All I would want to happen is to broaden the scope of the "memail me about:" section to include non-crisis criteria as well, taking the pressure off the resource and making it much less official. I really don't see how this implementation would not satisfy the original goals of this project.
posted by Think_Long at 3:36 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Think_Long: " I really don't see how this implementation would not satisfy the original goals of this project."

It does. But it does not resolve numerous concerns raised by folks in this thread.
posted by zarq at 3:52 PM on July 26, 2011


Fair enough. But it solves my concerns at least, and a good amount of us who have chimed in over the past 12 hours I think.
posted by Think_Long at 3:56 PM on July 26, 2011


I would like to strongly disagree with the idea that there are certain people who shouldn't be giving advice because they aren't emotionally healthy. I have been through hell and back (and I haven't been secretive about my condition here on Mefi) and I would say I've been "emotionally damaged." But I think I've made a lot of progress over the last 8 years of my life or so, and I think I could give hope to someone in a similar situation.

FelliniBlank: " If we go that route (which does work lots of online places), then we're essentially talking about creating user forums. I gather that's a direction admin/mods (members?) have not wanted to go in the past, which is why there are MeCha, MonkeyFilter, etc. How do people feel about that?"

See, outside the confines of Metafilter, when you go to these other Mefite-but-not-Metafilter sites... well, other people do not run their sites/forums/chatrooms like Matt and Jessamyn and Cortex, and it is not the same user experience. I didn't want to say this out loud but I think it needs to be said: I have had Mefites on a non-Mefi site/forum/chatroom be downright cruel to me as a direct result of my mental illness. They handled it very badly, basically hiding and talking about me behind my back, and then saying "We don't like how you act, but we can't tell you why or give you any concrete examples of what you did wrong, get lost." Does this give me reservations about this "ThereIsHelp" idea? Actually no. So many other Mefites have proven themselves to be good and wonderful people who have helped me with my depression, that I still support this idea.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:01 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Think_Long: " I really don't see how this implementation would not satisfy the original goals of this project."

It would, but the original goals of the project are problematic. A looser, more vague implementation of a bad idea is still a bad idea.
posted by jack_mo at 4:17 PM on July 26, 2011


sgt.serenity: " Because some of you are using the problems of others on mefi to deflect from looking at your own issues, harming them and yourselves in the process."

That's insulting and inflammatory and I don't see any evidence of it. And I don't like the passive-aggressiveness of saying "some of you". Either own it or don't put it out there at all.
posted by misha at 4:18 PM on July 26, 2011


Various thoughts:

Zarq, Gator,Errant and anyone else who feels strongly about this idea, I see nothing stopping ya'll from working on this. If you're looking for some aspect of this to be rolled into the site and Jessamyn has indicated she'd like to revisit it, I suggest working on some ideas to have a plan ready for when Jessamyn brings it up again (or just let it lie for 3 or 4 months and nicely ask her about). Use the rest of this thread to spin out ideas with the caveat of being open to all ideas, be the good or bad. Pater's idea is a good one, use it as a framework and build on that.

...........

Again, I can not stress how awesome it was to have a group of Mefites helping another Mefite through a Google Group. Everything was transparent and above board, various suggestions were floated and if they were bad that was pointed. Plus the various helpers had a diverse set of skills which were helpful. No, it won't be perfect thing every time, it's using the power of the group, which can be extraordinarily wonderful.

But as Jessamyn said, that's something that has to happen offsite. Zarq, this would be good use of the Wiki, how do you feel about setting up a page where helpers can volunteer for to be part of such a group? Just thinking out loud, a person seeking some ears or shoulder could go to a Google Group and say "I need x help". Every Mefite who wants to help should be following that group. Once the person's needs are establish, volunteers can splinter off into a smaller group to focus on that individual. What do you ya'll think?

............

I really want to the MessageMe idea rolled into the site. I'd like to be able to search through its tags for people interested in talking things I like to talk about it. Yes, it could be abused, but mostly it sounds like social fun. Just make it opt-in.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:58 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Without either a search or list function it would be worse than useless. There are 100,000+ MeFite profile pages, and they're not searchable.

I'm personally against adding a search function for profiles for any reason whatsoever. I didn't realize that we were talking about a searchable thing so much as a "looking at someone's profile and seeing what's up" kind of thing.

Especially for this, I think a search function would be a really bad idea. "Oh, I'm having problems with broccoli. I'm going to search for someone to help." You just end up with a list. And then what? How do you know anything about where to start on that list? The idea of who has updated the most recently is ok, but what if that person is just online all the time and not really someone who has a lot of knowledge whereas a professional in that area tends to lurk and not post so much, so they're way at the bottom of the list.

The way I was thinking this kind of thing might work would be that you would find such information more organically, like say, I might post an answer about pregnancy in AskMe and someone would read my profile - who wasn't necessarily the asker - and see "Oh, she's up for answering questions about this. I have a question I don't really want to ask publicly, I'll try sending her a message first."

I look at people's profiles and send messages along the lines "Oh hey, I saw you were interested in such and such" from just reading the site. In AskMe - or even some threads on the Blue - when a topic comes up, you can get a feel for who has what interests and I'm imagining that someone who is having troubles of their own might be reading a lot of human relations AskMes without necessarily being an Asker.

Anyhow, I don't see how adding a quick "Yo, you can talk to me about stuff" thing on a profile page is worse than useless. At best, it's simply wasted text and I fail to see any kind of text ceiling that we're about to hit over here.
posted by sonika at 5:48 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


While we've been talking about this, I've had a few people contact me due to my "I'll talk about depression and therapy till the cows come home" comment at the top of this thread. It felt just fine to me and hopefully helped the other people as well. I'm sure other members who posted similar in the thread have gotten some Memails. So I don't know, it's been all of a *day,* but if a few people are encouraged to Memail me with some specific questions, I have to say that's pretty cool.
posted by sweetkid at 7:09 PM on July 26, 2011


I am very disappointed by the outcome of this discussion.
posted by prefpara at 7:20 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Likewise.

I wonder how much the subsite psychology informs this discussion - people come to metatalk to fight and complain, and to ask.metafilter to help and inform. Maybe it should have been posted in the green.
posted by fake at 7:29 PM on July 26, 2011


Anyhow, I don't see how adding a quick "Yo, you can talk to me about stuff" thing on a profile page is worse than useless. At best, it's simply wasted text and I fail to see any kind of text ceiling that we're about to hit over here.

The whole point of having a system is to make it easy for people to connect to volunteers. If they have to manually sift through hundreds or thousands of profiles until they happen to find someone with the knowledge, experience and inclination to speak with them about a particular subject or issue, that would be a very, very high barrier to have to overcome to get the assistance they're looking for. It undermines the entire point of establishing such a system, which is why I said it would make it worse than useless.

By the way, I don't believe this was originally envisioned as something that would make profiles searchable. I believe it was envisioned as an icon that people could click to find other mefites that had also opted to display the same icon. (Similar to the way birthdays are now clickable in profiles.) However, I believe Pater's concept would eliminate that functionality. Which would then mean an alternative method for finding volunteers for a particular topic would be needed. Tags might solve that problem. I'm not sure -- it hasn't been discussed in depth yet.
posted by zarq at 8:39 PM on July 26, 2011


And yes, I totally agree that profiles shouldn't be searchable.

But having icons or tag links that let signed-in members find members that are nearby or whatever is something we already do, so I don't think it should be too objectionable.
posted by zarq at 8:53 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fake, I was thinking exactly that thing you said, at least in terms of some people seeing MetaTalk as a place to have a fight/be snarky instead of a place to offer more productive ideas.

Before people go spinning off into panic mode on the searchable profile thing, the suggestion has been for opt in tags that you would have to add yourself, on purpose. At any rate, I hope we don't know have a hundred comments about omg-no-searchable-profiles! because this hasn't been suggested, and even if it has, it won't happen that way. Will not.

Anyway, I would use this. I would so use this both as a message-er and a message-ee, if the topics were customizable. I think something like this is a really great idea... and if we had that, and people also wanted to set up their own Google groups for collaborative efforts, they could include that info on their profile -- so if someone looks at MessageMe tags for "Alcoholism," for example, and a few people have put together a group for that, they're likely to encounter that information on the pages of the people who say that are open to emailing about alcoholism.
posted by taz at 10:46 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


This feels like 'no good deed goes unpunished' and to the degree I participated in shooting down jessamyn and others good work I really apologize. Hopefully this idea can come back in a less contentious format when everyone's up for it.

Hugs all around.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just read back over the first half of the thread, and almost without exception everyone was constructive and reasonable in their arguments for and against, and helpful with alternative ideas and suggestions – and your contributions have absolutely been in that vein, Space Kitty.

When people started jumping in with aggression and hostility things began to go downhill, as they do. It's always easier to wreck something than to help build it.
posted by taz at 1:29 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: "Various thoughts:

Zarq, Gator,Errant and anyone else who feels strongly about this idea, I see nothing stopping ya'll from working on this. If you're looking for some aspect of this to be rolled into the site and Jessamyn has indicated she'd like to revisit it, I suggest working on some ideas to have a plan ready for when Jessamyn brings it up again (or just let it lie for 3 or 4 months and nicely ask her about). Use the rest of this thread to spin out ideas with the caveat of being open to all ideas, be the good or bad. Pater's idea is a good one, use it as a framework and build on that.


I would have liked to have seen some aspect of this rolled into the site, yes. I'm willing to discuss and work with anyone who might be willing, to try to figure out an alternative plan which might be offered to the mods for consideration.

But again, there have been objections raised to the entire concept in this thread, and I'm still not sure it's possible to address them and still create a viable proposal / plan of action.

I think those are the first things that would need to be addressed. Because if the consensus is that adding that sort of social aspect to the site would do more harm than good, then we're dead in the water.

But as Jessamyn said, that's something that has to happen offsite. Zarq, this would be good use of the Wiki, how do you feel about setting up a page where helpers can volunteer for to be part of such a group? Just thinking out loud, a person seeking some ears or shoulder could go to a Google Group and say "I need x help". Every Mefite who wants to help should be following that group. Once the person's needs are establish, volunteers can splinter off into a smaller group to focus on that individual. What do you ya'll think?

I'm not sure. Am concerned about privacy issues. At one point the idea of creating a loose list of volunteers on the wiki was brought up and rejected for that reason. I'm happy to establish or maintain pages on the wiki. It's easy, and I enBut pages over there are trawled by search engines. I don't know if folks would be so comfortable with that?

I really want to the MessageMe idea rolled into the site. I'd like to be able to search through its tags for people interested in talking things I like to talk about it. Yes, it could be abused, but mostly it sounds like social fun. Just make it opt-in."

Heh. "IM-Me." Or "IM MeFi"
posted by zarq at 12:14 PM on July 27, 2011


And SpaceKitty, completely agree with taz here.
posted by zarq at 12:15 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anything that would make profiles searchable is a non-starter, and while the wiki is a good resource for many things, it's viewable and searchable by the world. Part of the point of the original idea that was being kicked around in the Bill Zeller thread was that this would be viewable to logged-in members only, which means it would have to be on MeFi proper and not on any external site.

I only ever wanted something simple out of this. Based on that thread and this one, I pretty much envision a single page listing MeFites who want to be there, the stated purpose of which is nothing more than "If you need somebody to talk to, here are some of your fellow MeFites who are available to listen. Feel free to drop them a line." The page could (but wouldn't necessarily have to) have a tag cloud, like all the subsites do, listing all the "tags" that the listed MeFites have listed for themselves; clicking the tag would refine the list to only those mefites. Nowhere on the page would be the words "crisis," "suicide," "legal," "counseling," "advice," "therapy," "trouble," "danger," or even "help."

Presumably a strongly-worded disclaimer would also be necessary (though now that I look, I don't see any such disclaimer anywhere on the Ask guidelines or FAQ, or even any mention that suicide questions are verboten). Whatever, some disclaimer to the effect that contacting other MeFites is not in any way medical or legal advice, does not constitute any medical or legal relationship, and is worth exactly what you pay for it, and furthermore that if you contact a MeFite and they believe you to be a danger to yourself or others that they may be obligated to contact the mods/the authorities/your mom. Encourage people to use AskMe if they've got a problem that needs to be solved, but if they just need a single, private ear to bend, use MessageMe or whatever this thing would be called.
posted by Gator at 12:41 PM on July 27, 2011


The suicide stuff is on the anon Ask Me posting page, #6.
posted by smackfu at 1:12 PM on July 27, 2011


If you poke through the links on this page, there are some of the best do-no-harm guidelines I've seen regarding normal people helping normal people:

(you can ignore all the "focusing" stuff)

http://www.focusing.org/partnership/partner_info/partnership_index.htm

Additional detail can be found in a chapter in the book Focusing by Eugene Gendlin.

The "focusing partnership program" is currently on hiatus (I don't know why), but it seems like they had something like this going on for years.
posted by zeek321 at 2:34 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used all my favorites for today on this thread, which I guess means that my views have already been represented quite well.

I'm all for something like this. I think many really good ideas for modification have been made and would love to be notified if something is put into place.

Jessamyn and everyone wonderful enough to have put their effort into this project, please don't be too discouraged. I am one of many who added an "available to chat" blurb to my profile after the Bill Zeller thread. There is a lot of helpful, caring people on MeFi and I hope that some way of easily connecting/organizing something like this will be found.
posted by MuChao at 6:17 PM on July 27, 2011


I like Gator's idea of a separate list, as opposed to profile icons or notation.

FWIW, I'm still putting a "worse than useless" blurb on my own profile.
posted by sonika at 6:26 PM on July 27, 2011


Good for you. However, we are attempting to define how this concept can possibly do the most good, and when a gesture is going to be minimally helpful at best because it isn't being supported in other ways, I think that's something that's highly important to point out.
posted by zarq at 8:09 PM on July 27, 2011


I only ever wanted something simple out of this. Based on that thread and this one, I pretty much envision a single page listing MeFites who want to be there, the stated purpose of which is nothing more than "If you need somebody to talk to, here are some of your fellow MeFites who are available to listen. Feel free to drop them a line." The page could (but wouldn't necessarily have to) have a tag cloud, like all the subsites do, listing all the "tags" that the listed MeFites have listed for themselves; clicking the tag would refine the list to only those mefites. Nowhere on the page would be the words "crisis," "suicide," "legal," "counseling," "advice," "therapy," "trouble," "danger," or even "help."

Presumably a strongly-worded disclaimer would also be necessary (though now that I look, I don't see any such disclaimer anywhere on the Ask guidelines or FAQ, or even any mention that suicide questions are verboten). Whatever, some disclaimer to the effect that contacting other MeFites is not in any way medical or legal advice, does not constitute any medical or legal relationship, and is worth exactly what you pay for it, and furthermore that if you contact a MeFite and they believe you to be a danger to yourself or others that they may be obligated to contact the mods/the authorities/your mom. Encourage people to use AskMe if they've got a problem that needs to be solved, but if they just need a single, private ear to bend, use MessageMe or whatever this thing would be called.


This system would work for me. Simple and elegant.
posted by zarq at 8:14 PM on July 27, 2011


Good for you.

Look, you've made it very clear that this discussion isn't going exactly the way you'd hoped, but do you need to be snide? I think it's nice that sonika and others have blurbs in their profiles.

Several people in this thread have noted that other MeFites have reached out to them because they've talked about their various struggles on the site, and it's great that members indicate in their profile that they welcome this type of contact.
posted by lalex at 8:33 PM on July 27, 2011


Look, you've made it very clear that this discussion isn't going exactly the way you'd hoped, but do you need to be snide? I think it's nice that sonika and others have blurbs in their profiles.


*sigh*

I have no problem with people putting blurbs in their profiles. This isn't about that, and I'm not trying to attack that. I have however, repeatedly tried to point out why doing so is not really an equivalent substitute for the proposal originally made in this thread and shouldn't be thought of as such. That's all.

If you or sonika or anyone else feel I'm being counterproductive, I apologize. I'll try to be less of a pain in the ass.

Several people in this thread have noted that other MeFites have reached out to them because they've talked about their various struggles on the site

Yes, and if you notice, I'm also one of those people. I do not have a blurb in my profile anymore because I was unable to keep up with my memail, and grew concerned that I'd be doing someone a disservice.

...and it's great that members indicate in their profile that they welcome this type of contact.

I think that as well. And I realize that you have no way of knowing this, but I encouraged more than two dozen people to do so in January, February and March in memail conversations. People who contacted me because they read this comment of mine in the Bill Zeller thread, where I indicated I was keeping a private list of people who would be interested in participating if what has been proposed here came to fruition.

Yes, this conversation has been disappointing to me. But I understand many of the objections that have been raised. I would like to see if the concept is salvageable.
posted by zarq at 9:05 PM on July 27, 2011


OK, if I understand you correctly, the comment you made in the Bill Zeller thread plus a blurb in your profile indicating your willingness to listen caused over two dozen people to contact you. I would describe that as more than "minimally helpful"?

You also mentioned that you had to remove the blurb because you were unable to help everybody, and felt you might be doing a disservice to the people who MeMailed you. This speaks to my biggest problem with the proposed system, which is the potential impact on the "helpers".
posted by lalex at 9:22 PM on July 27, 2011


OK, if I understand you correctly, the comment you made in the Bill Zeller thread plus a blurb in your profile indicating your willingness to listen caused over two dozen people to contact you.

Not exactly. A total of six people contacted me to talk after the Bill Zeller thread. I was unable to help two of them because they needed to speak with someone other than me. A professional counselor. I referred one to a hotline. Referred another to a specific resource. Followed up with both afterwards. Tried to be gentle and helpful about it.

More than two dozen other people contacted me to ask to be included on the list. A small number of others contacted me to offer links or other resources for the wiki, which I assessed and added if appropriate or not a duplicate.

I would describe that as more than "minimally helpful"?

Yeah, but I made myself a lot more visible than just placing a note in my profile. I was acting as a clearinghouse for the wiki page. I publicly offered reasons for people to get in touch with me in a very active, emotionally-charged MeTa thread where people were volunteering to be a shoulder for anyone in need.

You also mentioned that you had to remove the blurb because you were unable to help everybody, and felt you might be doing a disservice to the people who MeMailed you.

Without going into too much detail, I have two small children and my son has been in and out of the hospital. It began taking me days to respond to memail, and even though I didn't drop the ball on anyone, I was unable to manage my time well. The original proposed system took that sort of thing into account by allowing people to opt out.

This speaks to my biggest problem with the proposed system, which is the potential impact on the "helpers".

Totally think that's a fair point and deserves discussion.
posted by zarq at 9:52 PM on July 27, 2011


sorry to hear your son's not been well, zarq.
posted by sweetkid at 9:57 PM on July 27, 2011


Thanks, zarq, that makes sense.

This speaks to my biggest problem with the proposed system, which is the potential impact on the "helpers".

Totally think that's a fair point and deserves discussion.


I alluded to it earlier in this thread, but I keep coming back to this comment from ikkyu2. He is a medical professional and his girlfriend is a trained mental health professional, and he still felt terribly about his interactions with Soulbee. See also this comment from Melissa May.

For those reasons, I think my personal preference is to see this take place in an offsite group/forum setting, because it would:

- remove the imprimatur of volunteers being "authorized" by MetaFilter
- potentially give volunteers a support system
- mitigate the effects of harmful advice, since a person seeking help would hopefully hear from more than one person
- lessen the pressure on one individual to respond in a consistent and timely manner
- increase the likelihood that a person in crisis would be able to receive support in a consistent and timely manner

also, I'm sorry to hear that your son has been having medical issues. I wish him the best of health.
posted by lalex at 10:16 PM on July 27, 2011


Ugh.

See also this this comment from Melissa May.
posted by lalex at 10:23 PM on July 27, 2011


lalex I think you are getting over focussed into the "help" "advice" aspects here.
What, if I see it correctly, is being proposed is a wiki page which is basically titled "If you want a shoulder to cry on" and from there leads the inquirer to someone who will be a sympathetic listener. Nothing more is proposed.
This is not a perfect world. How many people go for professional advise and end up with crap?
Those who are prepared to listen have at hand on the wiki; a list of professional resources so that if neccessary they can then say to the person looking for solace "thank you for being so brave as to open yourself up and share your misfortune with me, but I am not a professional - these people are; lets see if we can get you on the right road."
posted by adamvasco at 11:24 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


sweetkid and lalex, thanks. He's doing much better now than he was this past Spring.

lalex: "Thanks, zarq, that makes sense."

No problem. I really should have been clearer in my initial comments to you and sonika. Thanks for the reality check.

Will comment more a little later.
posted by zarq at 7:00 AM on July 28, 2011


People have a knack for saying exactly the wrong thing when someone is deeply, dangerously suffering. But I still think some incarnation of this is a good idea. In all seriousness, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy towards the real people on the other side of my monitor.

This has already been said dozens of times above, and of course the mods et al. are more than aware, but I think it's all going to come down to what is tacitly implied by all the little details and verbal disclaimers and explanations that go into this. People will of course see what they want to see and use it how they want to use it, but some careful design and wording can go a long way.

I think this issue is this:

1. This project will be designed for people that are NOT deeply, dangerously suffering, to give them someone to talk to ideally *long before they are* deeply, dangerously suffering.

2. This project was stimulated by an awareness that people out there ARE deeply, dangerously suffering who, if they get to that point, they ideally need an awesome, trained professional who's just right for them.

3. We shouldn't confuse those two groups of people.

If the design and tone of this project can discriminate explicitly or tacitly between those two groups of people, and both the talkers and listeners get it, unconsciously or consciously, then I think you're good to go. My 2c.
posted by zeek321 at 7:13 AM on July 28, 2011


Heh. "IM-Me." Or "IM MeFi"

and I shall call it
MetaMe
posted by LogicalDash at 10:00 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


To clarify, I didn't suggest blurbs in profiles instead of some kind of more formal "helper" system, but rather as a stop-gap solution in the meantime while such a thing is being sorted out.

(And no harm, no foul, zarq. I totally get where you're coming from.)
posted by sonika at 4:30 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like this idea, but would it be possible to put geographic restrictions on our availability? With substance abuse issues, for instance, there's a big difference between being able to say "let's meet for coffee" and having to say "here are a list of resources in your area."
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:58 AM on July 30, 2011


This AskMe thread, where a male is asking for advice on what to do about a relationship and woman he does not like, yet continues, is a good example what I worry about with idea. The majority of people are more concerned with taking the OP to task and name calling, to the extent that a moderator had to twice tell people to knock it off.

If you want to help, you have to want help, even when the person isn't acting in a way you like or approve of. You have to worry about this person, who's asking for help, and not worry so much about the people who they may have hurt.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:46 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fedora Guy seems to have a little brother, but yeah.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:01 PM on July 31, 2011


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