Sunday, November 14, 2010

Helping the Hopeless

Let there be hope.  It's one of the essential elements for mental health.

And so it's reasonable that hopelessness and helplessness are a struggle for people who are mentally ill.  When you are working or living with a person who is hopeless and helpless ... who can see nothing beyond the current pain of their lives and who thinks that he or she has no power whatsoever to change things ... it is very difficult and painful for you as well.

I recently attended a training by my church, Vineyard Columbus, on providing support to people in pain.  The first step in helping the hopeless is making sure that the person is not at immediate risk of suicide. If you have any doubts, ask: Are you thinking about killing yourself? Do you have a plan? If the answers to both are yes, assess whether they have the means to do so.  If that answer is yes, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline or 911. Or get someone to help you get the person to the hospital emergency room.

To help someone who is hopeless but not at risk of suicide, attitude is essential. Taking a superior tone (offering real or implied criticism or acting holier than thou) just makes things worse.  Instead kindness is the path. You may not agree with what the person says but you can feel for them.  Vineyard also suggested determining whether the hopelessness is situational ... due to an event that must be grieved, for example ... or a long-term habit of mind. Helping the person toward counseling in either event is good.

When the helpless person is a family member or friend standing in front of you,  these ideas may help:
  • Make a plan of something to do today.  It can be very simple. Getting out of bed and taking a shower is a start.
  • Help them come up with a safety plan that includes who to call when they feel terrible.
  • Help them get to a support network and/or grief counseling.
  • Pray for them.  If they have faith, help them to pray appropriate Psalms that deal with hopeless feelings. 
Above all, keep your own hope. Remember: When the car runs out of gas, it stops. You must fuel yourself with hope by keeping yourself healthy and exercising your faith. Stay close to God. Helping a loved one who is hopeless is incredibly draining and scary, too. You need to stay plugged into God as the Source of all hope. 

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