iNaturalist & Mental Health

This subject has been touched on in other threads which I have followed with interest, largely because I became aware that it was happening to me.

Let me be clear at the outset; I am NOT going to be naming anyone. This isn’t a personal attack, nor indeed is it an attack of any sort. Rather it is an account of my own experiences from which I hope others may learn.

My primary interest is in freshwater microlife. It has been a fascination since my early teens, but only in the last few years has life and finance allowed me to purchase a couple of decent microscopes and really dive in (sorry, terrible pun!) to this wonderful hobby. The myriad species which can be observed from just puddles, a tiny pond, and a bird bath in my back yard are simply spectacular. It is amazing and beautiful to watch different populations ebb and flow with the seasons.

Now, I’m not a scientist in any formal sense. Neither am I – nor will I ever be – an “expert” in this field, or any other. I am a curious and interested observer; one who has a special appreciation for the tiny life forms by which we are surrounded, and of which we are largely unaware.

When I find something new (almost every day!) I have a go at identifying it. I’m usually wrong.

That’s where iNat comes in.

I saw this as the ideal place to post some of my images in the hope that others with far greater knowledge and experience than me might offer some advice or guidance regarding identification of these microorganisms. It almost worked. I was even learning to use the search URLs to look for similar observations. And there were a few very helpful – and greatly appreciated – suggestions and pointers. Sadly these were vastly outnumbered by the condescending and demeaning, passive-aggressive comments from others.

I know my attempted IDs are probably wrong – that’s why I’m here! - I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to find the right direction, and my attempted ID is my starting point. If you know it is wrong, then please point me in another direction rather than just dismiss my initial attempt.

All this has left me quite disillusioned. Earlier this year I “emerged” from a dreadful bout of depression which I have lived with all my life. I beat it this time around without meds and I’m rather proud of that. My experience of iNat put me in serious jeopardy of relapsing.

So for now, my journey continues, but without iNat.

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This is really upsetting to hear. My experiences with other people on iNat have only been positive so far. Are you receiving these comments from certain members that you’ve come to recognise? If so, have you considered muting, blocking or contacting iNat directly about them? You shouldn’t be forced to leave the site because of anyone’s bad behaviour.

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Sounds like you were excited at the life you were finding around you. You wanted to learn and grow and be included in this community. Then you started to receive some comments about which you felt anxious, confused, sad, discouraged.

Sounds like, given your recent bout with depression, continuing to be vulnerable on inat is not a safe option.

How can this community support you?

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Sorry to hear that. In my experience the iNat community is generally one of the most gracious of online communities, but it seems that other people have a different experience.

This is in no way to suggest you’ve done anything wrong, but I am wondering at what level you’ve made your initial identifications at. Generally it’s best to keep anything you’re even a bit uncertain about at the genus level, or above. If you jump right into a species level identification, especially with species that are difficult to identify or require special techniques to identify people can get a bit aggressive in correcting that due to frustration at how often people identify to the wrong species (or genus), and how difficult it can be to get back to the correct one once that initial ID is made.

I’ve seen here in the forum some heated rants about this specific issue by people passionate about their particular interests who are aware that microorganisms in general, and certain groups of arthropods get very few community identifications and once an ID is made there is a ‘follow the leader’ effect that can lead to observations effectively being permanently misidentified.

Again, I don’t know your specific situation, and it’s not at all a comment on doing anything wrong in any case, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I short circuit this by leaving the IDs I’m not very certain of at a more general level (usually, not all the time) and suggesting a species (or genus) level ID in a comment, more as a question.

Another thing about iNat is that it requires a lot of patience. Depending on what you’re observing and where it can easily take years before someone makes an ID suggestion on your observations. That patience extends beyond the time factor and to the person factor as well. Some folks come across as brusk online without actually meaning to or being like that in person, and some folks are simply frustrated for the aforementioned reasons. And yes, some people are just jerks, but that is, in my experience, generally not such an issue on iNat.

In any event, I’m sorry to hear of your experience.

Perhaps searching out some of the projects that are specific to your interests, joining, and posting the relevant observations there might find you a more amenable group to share observations with?

You appear to be in the UK, so maybe something like this projects would offer a more niche community:

Or looking for wider area projects that are focused on microscopy or microorganisms

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Well, that sucks. I’m sorry you had those experiences on iNaturalist. Some people are just mean (or unthinking, at best). I’ve had a few mean comments directed at me on this site, too (mainly when I was IDing), and it certainly made me feel lousy and stop IDing for a few days.

If you’re posting an observation with an initial ID that’s as good as you can come up with, you are absolutely doing what you’re supposed to do on this site. Of course you’re going to be wrong sometimes, but the appropriate response from identifiers is either to just post a corrected ID (which you can then follow up on) or to post a corrected Id with a helpful comment like, “one of the differences between daphnia and mosquito pupae is XXXX.” Not something like, “Well, as any idiot can see, this is a mosquito pupa, not a daphnia.” Those sort of mean comments should be reported to iNaturalist.

And I’m fascinated by your exploration of aquatic micro-organisms. I built a tiny lily pool a couple of years, but it never even occurred to me to look at what lives there under a microscope.

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I know that feeling - sheepish and discouraged as a result of someone’s response to me (on this site or elsewhere). But for iNat, I have a different set of rules for my beliefs:

Anyone using iNat seriously enough to respond to an ID is a Good Person. They get that Good Person designation because they care about the natural world. Now, since no one can be Good at everything, these Good People will have flaws. In some cases, for instance, they suck at being Good with other People. But that, of course, is their problem, not mine. So I have no need to be sheepish or discouraged!

There are a hundred ways in which this might be an oversimplification. But that’s OK. I think it really is true 99% of the time, and it’s 100% accurate in that their attitudes aren’t a reflection on me.

Depression will always guide you to the worst case scenario. Depression, in my experience, is a poor judge of other people’s characters. ;-)

So keep iNatting. We’re mostly really awesome here. :-)

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A really nice and thoughtful post.

When you say dismiss your initial attempt, what do you mean? Can you give us an example with names redacted? Is it someone disagreeing with your ID and moving it to a higher level without saying why? Or is someone just posting the equivalent of “nope” (or worse) in a comment?

The former can feel very abrupt but I’ve found it helpful to assume good will on the part of the identifier. They have no personal animosity and are just focused on their own task of identifying. And depending on their ID experience, they may not realize what their coarser grade ID does to a finer grade. A disagreement in an ID is within the scope of how iNat works even if sometimes it feels abrupt. Feel free to tag someone you’ve found helpful to take a look and weigh in to help get the ID where it should be.

Now if it’s the latter, someone just posting unnecessary comments without actually doing the work of the ID, that’s a different matter. There are ways to deal with this like blocking or flagging the comment.

Your observations are important and useful. I hope whatever the situation is you can find a way to continue contributing and protect your mental health.

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You have got me worried now that was me who was being discouraging, but if I look up Alanm under explore people, it returns zero observations. So if you tell me what user name your obs are under, I will go through them and see if I can help.

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I’m saddened to hear your experience in iNat isn’t as positive as you hoped it would be. The truth is, many users here are willing to help out, though sometimes their comments may seem curt. I sometimes feel guilty of writing straight-to-the-point comments that can seem rude. If you do decide to stay in iNat, we welcome you with open arms. If you decide to stay away, then I’m glad that you will continue with your interest in learning about microscopic life.

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Saludos from Yucatán!

First, congratulations to you for a number of accomplishments: for finding something that brings you joy and having the discipline to manage your finances to acquire the equipment to better your enjoyment, for using puns (please, in the future, refrain from apologies), and for sharing of yourself, which is not at all as easy as some think.

And there were a few very helpful – and greatly appreciated – suggestions and pointers.

Find these. These are your people. Say thank you, ask considered questions, and you will continue along your journey. Tag them when you have a question and let them be the ones to gently correct you.

condescending and demeaning, passive-aggressive comments from others.

These are not your people. But they may be helpful nonetheless, if you can separate their tone from their information. In short, see if you can take what you need and leave the rest. But! – and this is an important but – only if you can. If you cannot, please consider trying the mute or block functions?

I say this because I think iNaturalist and your enjoyment of nature may have something to do with your success in overcoming your most recent depressive bout without meds and I would hate to see you deprive yourself of that tool if you need not do so.

Might I also suggest some cross-interests? The “Fly Guys” are exceedingly kind and welcoming and I bet there are flies where you live, all year long. Interactions with lovely plant people might also be a welcome respite. Diversification into other areas might make the water feel warmer (badum bum) in your preferred area of interest.

Regardless of the path you take, I wish you peace and wellness. :)

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I can understand your situation so well–I also suffer depression although not bad enough to take meds and I had to give up on some other sites for similar reasons to your reasons. That said, I really hope you can stay on. I’ve been fortunate in that most of my interactions here have been positive, even when I make really stupid mistakes (and should have known better). Really lucky in fact in that the people who have identified my observations have been very helpful and positive (well, maybe one or two got a little snarky due to their frustration because of so many people misidentifying the same critter, including me).
It’s really hard–I know because of my own experiences and my reaction of largely dropping one of my previously favorite sites because it made me feel hopelessly inadequate (okay, I won’t be so cagey about it–it was eBird where one of the moderators actually emailed me to ask that I let them review photos before I posted them because of my incompetance in identification. I made stupid mistakes a couple of times because I used my tablet to post photos and often thought the small thumbnail was one bird I saw but it was a different one–excuses, excuses, excuses. Nonetheless, I’ve lost all of my confidence and simply stopped posting any photos and often any lists at all on that site…So I gave up…)

What I’m trying to say is: please don’t give up. Many of us know how difficult it is. And I’m crazy enough that I always want to post observations at the species level even when I’m unsure (which is most of the time anyway because I lack confidence) and I’ve been super lucky with identifiers. My depression always suggests to me that my most trusted identifiers must think I’m an idiot by now because of the mistakes I make, but…
It does help me overall to be here on iNat.
Please try just suppressing the worst of those who have made snarky comments. Please try to continue your journey here. There really are some very kind people and most will give you a lot of tips and help when asked.
I do understnad how discouraging it can be, however. I wish I could help more.
I will say that one really good thing about iNat that you may not find in other places is that folks are not anonymous and can’t make awful comments without you knowing who they are. And you can then suppress them so you don’t have to deal with the trolls anymore. That doesn’t help the initial impact of their comments, I know, because no matter what you do, you’ll always wonder if if you really are an idiot like the troll suggested–or at least I always do–so it’s hard to truly ignore them. But perhaps if you get enough good results, the good will outweigh the bad.
Lastly, one thing that really helped me was to start doing more identifications. Okay. So I only do identifications of critters that I think I really know well, like the Northern Cardinal or a Common Green Darner dragonfly. But that has really helped me regain a smidgeon of confidence. It helps my mood tremendously.
Perhaps you might try that?
(Even though I say that, I’m always fully prepared to have someone say: you idiot, that’s not a Northern Cardinal–any fool can see that it’s a…whatever kind of bird…)
But might that help? So you can stay on iNat and get something out of it?
The identifications don’t have to be in your favorite genus or family of species–it can be anything even things like common backyard birds as in my case. But it you can do that, it might help your mood.
Really hope this babbling helps…

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Sorry you’re having a bad experience with iNat. Social media can be a cesspool, which is why I avoid it, although iNat in general is mostly positive with occasional exceptions. I think we’ve all seen those snarky comments that border on insulting from time to time. I figure the person who writes those is having more issues than me, so I ignore them — maybe flip the bird at the screen — and move on. But if there’s some useful info in the snarky comment, I’ll heed it.

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I know they mean well, but it’s annoying to receive an email about a 10 year old checklist asking to explain a sighting. That isn’t the reason I don’t use eBird much anymore (mostly got bored with it and use iNat instead), but it’s a product of a site that doesn’t require photos and relies on users to be confident in their IDs.

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Hey folks, please don’t speculate about the motivations or mental states of other users. Discussion about behaviors, their effects, and how to deal with them are fine, but we don’t have any insight into the specific situation or mental state of the people we’re discussing. Thanks.

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As someone who’s suffered from depression and anxiety most of my life (I’m in therapy and have been on a low dose meds for a long time now) I can definitely sypmathize, and I’m sorry you felt the need to leave iNat for now @AlanM. Please do what you feel is best for your health.

I’ve definitely felt similarly when on the receiving end of curt or condescending comments or corrections on iNat. In general I try to not take it personally and assume they mean well and maybe just aren’t communicating in the best way at the moment. If you’re suffering from depression, though, it’s hard to see anything but the worst in people and taking time away and practicing healthy behaviors is sometimes necessary. In general I find the community on iNat to be pretty great, but with such a large, diverse group of people you’ll sometimes run into someone who’s either malicious or whose words can cut you even if it’s unintentional.

There are a few tools you can use on iNat itself if you run into these situations:

  • you can flag a comment or ID if you feel it violates the Community Guidelines. Curators will take a look at it.

  • you can block the other person (go to Account Settings on the website, click on Relationships, and scroll down)

  • if you’re uncomfortable with flagging, you can email help@inaturalist.org and we can take a look into it for you.

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Hi Alan, welcome to iNaturalist! I love freshwater microorganisms too!

I am suprised and sad that there were more dismissive, cold, comments than kind ones. I have mis-identified plenty of observations, and I have never had this happen, so I am either really lucky or really oblivious :-P

However, my recommendation is this: focus on what you are doing. Focus on your achievements. There are lots of things you are doing right, even if ID isn’t always one of them. I love that you are trying to learn. When someone is eager to learn, and to correct their mistakes, that is the best, and that is what science is all about: contributing with your knowledge, but also being open to the fact that no-one knows everything.

I am sorry to hear that. Like @coloeus said,

But also, please do what is good for your mental health. Even though I am sad that you are taking a break, there is no reason you should have to put your mental health at risk for something that’s supposed to be fun.

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Not sure what’s up in the freshwater invert iNat community that is triggering enough rude commentary to drive you away. I have found 99.9% of all the ID’s and comments I’ve received are either neutral (no comment with the ID) or helpful (explaining why my ID is wrong nicely).

I know it is against the rules to post specific observations but that would certainly help in this situation to see if it was one bad apple or many. It kind of fits the pattern of one mean IDer and not a whole flock of them. Of course just correcting an ID should NEVER be taken as an insult. We all have made an embarrassing mistake on here.

Sorry this happened to you.

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Hi @AlanM, I’m very sorry to hear about your experiences on iNat.

As somebody who is also interested in freshwater microscopic life, it is an especially big loss when somebody leaves the community. The microscopy community on iNaturalist is pretty small, so every person’s contributions have an outsized impact. My experience on iNaturalist has been largely positive with respect to microscopy. However, I fully recognize that with a small community, certain negative or demeaning voices also stand out more.

I think it’s very likely that I have left some IDs on your observations. I hope they have been constructive and kind. If not, I sincerely apologize.

Feel free to reach out to me, if you feel comfortable doing so! In any case, please take care of yourself. <3

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I’ve appreciated what others above me have said, but to underline: Please take care of yourself and do what you need to do. And please keep the door open to returning – I’ve generally found the iNat community to be very nurturing and tolerant, but have sometimes had to shrug off some negative emotions I’ve perceived in posts. (I’ve actually sometimes found the practice here to be helpful, because I’ve found negativity here to be rarer and better-intentioned than in other social interactions.)

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I actually had to write an entire essay on something that irks me just last week, and I chose this (people who tell you you’re wrong, but don’t explain why), and came to the conclusion that nobody owes me a single explination, and I can’t get huffy about not getting more than I’m given. When you do hundreds and thousands of IDs, you can’t explain every time someone makes a mistake. It’s not anyone’s job, rather a voluntary help one is giving to others. I realized I was a bit of a “choosing beggar” by being upset I wasn’t served the exact answers as to where I went wrong. Besides, I’m so much better after having to find my own answers. Having to research everything myself, and find what I was looking for, have sharpened my skills and led me to finding out so much more than someone’s answer could have given me. All I needed was a turn of perspective.

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