Hopelessness – a sense of despair, helplessness, and a bleak outlook for the future – can afflict even the most resilient of individuals when life presents overwhelming challenges. In some cases, persistent hopelessness may indicate a more chronic or severe mental health condition such as major depressive disorder. In any circumstance, hopelessness is an emotional experience characterized by darkness and emptiness, whereby one’s quality of life is significantly diminished. Combating hopelessness can be complicated in that the very existence of it can inhibit treatment effectiveness. Nevertheless, hopelessness is a treatable ailment and every effort to intervene should be made when one is suffering in this way. In fact, intervention can often be lifesaving.
A popular acronym captures the message behind treatment efforts: H.O.P.E. – Hold On, Pain Ends. When an individual is experiencing dejection, generating hope is a necessary steppingstone to peace. Cultivating the ability to see a brighter future can be accomplished in many ways, several are highlighted below.
Reframing failure while eliminating shame: While it’s not uncommon to see failure as a harsh indictment of oneself or one’s future, it is critically important to challenge this destructive pattern of thinking. Shame can also lead people to irrationally believe that a bad experience means that they are a bad person. Missteps are not only a natural part of life, but they are also a necessary part of life. There is often just as much, if not more, to be gained from failure as there is to be lost. Being willing to accept and find the opportunity in defeat while striving to release shame is a necessary ingredient for hopeful living.
Identify past successes, strengths, skills, and abilities: What challenge have you overcome in the past? What qualities do you possess that you also appreciate in others? What strengths have others recognized in you? What makes you feel alive or fulfilled? What are you most proud of? These questions are examples of prompts that can help someone connect to their own sense of worth, power and resilience. A positive self-image is consistent with developing the confidence needed to keep going when life becomes overwhelmingly difficult.
Get a vital need met: The experience of hopelessness can often give valuable information about what vital human needs are not being met. When a person can accurately identify which needs are being neglected (such as the need for safety, the need for connection, or the need for accomplishment), they can become empowered to seek out ways of getting these needs met. Acting with intention in this way not only supports a reconnection with one’s sense of meaning and purpose, it also helps build a sense of agency and control in their own lives.
While these and other self-support exercises are available to begin the process of generating hope when necessary, seeking professional support is strongly recommended and encouraged. BAC proudly stands in alliance with the mission of supporting the mental health and wellness of individuals in need. If you or a loved one is experiencing unrelenting hopelessness, please call MAP for free, confidential support at 1-833-MAP-TALK, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 7.pm. EST. For a more urgent need, the United States released a three-digit, “988,” 24/7 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in July of 2022.