Office Hours: Strategies for when a situation feels hopeless


What are some suggestions for working with a person when their situation sometimes feels hopeless?

Hopelessness has a contagious quality: it can quickly spread from the person to their care team and then back again. This can lead to paralysis and a sense of inevitability, as well as stripping away critical support. But the reality is, there is always something we can do.

  • Align ourselves with hope. Do this for ourselves and for the person. No matter how bad things might seem, there are always options. Hope is contagious as well, and there is nothing more important for the person at risk than to see and hear that other people believe they can and will get better. 
  • Use mini-interventions to emphasise your hope and your commitment to supporting the person.
    • “I know, based on lots of research, my own experience, and other experts I’m drawing on, that there is hope. We know these thoughts and desperate feelings don’t last forever.”
    • “I know you don’t feel hopeful right now, and you don’t have to. I’m going to hold that hope for you until you are ready to take it back.” 
    • “If you can stick with us, we will stick with you. The approaches we are taking can take some time, but they will help.”
  • Don’t stop thinking about the long term and options that won’t have an immediate payoff, even if a person has a highly elevated risk state. Your willingness to think about working with the person in the future not only lays foundations for recovery but can help signal your hope and belief that they will get better.
    •  “I have an approach I’d like to try with you – it will take some time, but based on the evidence, I think it can help.”
  • Get contingency plans in place to respond to immediate risk. Work with the person to increase visibility around foreseeable changes. Work out what steps they can take in the specific situations they are facing or will soon face. Build support plans that map out responses for family members, school administrators, and other support people.
  • Look for ways to broaden the circle of support. If there are only limited available supports in the immediate family, try looking for more distant potential supports persons. There might be a cousin or an aunt the person has always admired who will be willing to help.

Note: This is one of the recaps from our monthly Office Hours sessions where SafeSide members can ask questions and share their experiences. Members also have access to Community of Practice with the full library of recaps, newsletters and resources. 

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Acknowledgement of Lived Experience
We acknowledge the lived experience of those with suicide and mental illness, their families and carers. Their preferences, wishes, needs, and aspirations are at the heart of all the work we do.

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