When hope is present in your life, you might feel you can take on the world. However, when a mental illness is one of your challenges, it can be difficult to remain positive.
Hope is defined as the perceived ability to find pathways to desired goals, and to motivate yourself to use those pathways. A lack of hope has been linked to the onset of mental health issues such as depression. “A sense of hopelessness is one of the main aggravating factors that increase a risk of suicide,” explains Dr Stephen Carbone, Director of Prevention United.
On the other side of the coin, regaining hope is important in overcoming or coping with mental illness. “In recovery and in suicide prevention, hope is a potent protective factor,” Carbone says.
Below are some practical ideas for increasing hopefulness.
1. Reach out to others
Reach out to someone you trust. “When you are in a dark place, the worst thing to do is to be on your own,” says Carbone. “Share it with other people and they might be able to suggest things you might not have thought of.”
If you speak with someone who knows you well, they might be able to help you find things to look forward to, offer some practical help that you need, or simply listen as you share how you’re feeling.
2. Find the light at the end of the tunnel
If you’re trying to help someone feel more hopeful, it’s good to remind them that, although things aren’t great right now, there are options and solutions ahead.
“Don’t dismiss or trivialise people’s pain, but help them see there’s always something else ahead,” advises Carbone.
Let that person know you believe in them and remind them there really is light at the end of this tunnel.
3. Use previous experiences
If you’ve experienced issues with your mental health, you might be able to see some patterns in your past recoveries that you can use again. “Some people have had other experiences of depression, and if they can see that they got through those times and there’s no reason they can’t get through it this time, it can remind them of their own strengths and victories,” Carbone says.
4. Be easier on yourself
Many people who are experiencing a mental illness can be tough on themselves. “Slow down, be patient and forgiving of yourself, look at your strengths and the things that are going right in your life,” Carbone suggests. “That’s the real key to getting out of that hopeless mindset.”
5. Help others feel hopeful by offering some logic
Logically, we know there are always possibilities for life to be happy. When you’re experiencing a mental illness, however, hope that’s formed from logic can be difficult to find. Carbone says: “When someone is in that dark space, feeling overwhelmed and that emotional pain is getting quite intense, they can become very blinkered and see things in black and white, here and now terms. It’s about opening up that conversation to see other possibilities and opportunities for getting things back on track.”
Presenting some logic and options, and helping people see some different perspectives, can help people feel hopeful again. “Present the facts,” suggests Carbone, “but do it in a gentle way, not in a provocative or confrontational manner.”
It is possible to find a solution, so it’s important to cut through irrational thoughts and get back to the basics of hope.
If you are feeling distressed or know anyone who needs support, Lifeline have a 24-hour online or phone counselling service which you can access by calling 13 11 14 or visiting: https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/online-services/crisis-chat