Tips for Overcoming Hopelessness in Depression
“Things will never get better.”
“I’ll never be happy.”
If these statements sound familiar, you may be struggling with depression. One of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders, depression afflicts nearly 7 million Americans annually. Almost one-third of these cases are classified as severe, and they are the ones in which feelings of hopelessness are most likely to occur.
Hopelessness and Suicide Risk
Depression is quite treatable in most cases. Sadly, though, far too many depressed individuals never seek treatment or lack the resources to get the help they need. The potential consequences of untreated depression can be devastating for you and those close to you. People living with depression have a much higher risk for suicide than non-depressed individuals. Experts estimate that every year up to 90% of the nation’s 37,000 suicides are linked to diagnosable mental health conditions, such as clinical depression. The hopelessness that often accompanies depression is one of the warning signs that a person may be in danger of attempting suicide. In fact, most depressed individuals who attempt or successfully commit suicide were experiencing a profound sense of hopelessness.
Find Professional Treatment
Clinical depression is a serious problem that requires professional treatment. No one should handle depression on their own. One of the biggest advantages of working with a mental health professional is that he or she can help you learn to manage and, in many cases, alleviate your depressive symptoms. Tools he or she may use to help you include:
- Therapy: Psychotherapy is the foundation of any treatment plan to relieve feelings of hopelessness. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective types of therapy used to treat depression. This particular approach helps you become aware of the disordered thinking and behaviors triggered by your depression. You’ll learn to recognize these negative thoughts and essentially “re-program” them. For example, a depressed person might think: I’ve had two years of therapy in the past, and it didn’t help at all. I’ll always be depressed. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you “reframe” irrational thinking patterns like this. For example, rather than assume that your situation is hopeless, you’ll challenge the thought and may change it to: Even though two previous years of therapy wasn’t helpful, I’m working with a new therapist now using a new approach that has helped many people. Perhaps I can get better, too. The result is a more positive outlook that doesn’t generate strong negative feelings of hopelessness. Therapy often takes place in a one-on-one setting, but it may also occur with a small group of people experiencing the same issues. Both individual and group therapy can be very beneficial for treating depression.
- Medications: Antidepressants are believed to benefit depression by helping to rebalance brain chemistry. They generally work best when used in conjunction with therapy, rather than as the sole form of treatment. There are several types of medication used to treat depression, with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) being the most frequently prescribed. Your physician can recommend a medication based on your medical history and symptoms. It may take several weeks for an antidepressant to be fully effective, so patience is important. Remember, medications are only one part of depression treatment, but, for those with moderate to severe depression, they may help reduce symptoms so you can focus on therapy.
Make Lifestyle Changes
Professional treatment is a critical part of treating depression, but other strategies can help improve your mood and increase your quality of life as well. Your therapist may recommend some of the following lifestyle changes or activities to reduce feelings of hopelessness, as well as other symptoms of depression.
Find a healthy way to express your feelings. Keep a journal where you can express your thoughts safely and privately. Other creative outlets include writing poetry, painting pictures or sculpting clay. These activities allow you to take a “snapshot” of your thoughts and emotions. When you reread or review your work, you may be able to see—in a very tangible way—the negative thinking patterns, as well as the progress you’re making. Expressing yourself via one of these outlets can help you learn about yourself and make positive changes.
Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
Some depressed people will turn to substances to numb the pain they’re feeling. Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs provide temporary relief at best–and at a high price. They also often make symptoms worse in the long run. Even worse, alcohol and drugs impair judgment and may make you even more prone to acting on thoughts of suicide. If you’re battling depression (or have a history of depression), it’s definitely best to avoid alcohol and drugs completely.
One way to overcome feelings of hopelessness is to engage in activities that can help give you a different perspective on life. For example, volunteer your time for a cause that is close to your heart. Help cook or serve meals at a homeless shelter or crochet tiny caps for a nearby hospital neonatal intensive care unit. Helping those less fortunate can help you look at your own life in a more positive way, thus reducing feelings of hopelessness. It also helps boost your self-esteem, gives you a greater sense of belonging in the community, and can provide a much-needed sense of purpose and personal value.
Numerous studies show that regular exercise improves mood in people who struggle with depression. Physical activity–particularly aerobic types of exercise like jogging or swimming–works by releasing the body’s endorphins, which naturally boost your mood. In fact, research has shown that regular exercise is just as beneficial in reducing symptoms of depression as therapy or medication. It’s also much less expensive, doesn’t have side effects, and improves your confidence and overall health as well. (Always be sure to get your doctor’s OK before starting an exercise program.)
Join a Support Group
Feeling isolated is a big part of feeling hopeless. A depression-related support group can be an invaluable source of comfort and healing as you deal with your emotions. Support group members share experiences, resources, and, sometimes, just provide a sympathetic shoulder to lean on. Find a local group you can connect with. If you’re not sure where to go, ask your mental health professional for a referral. Those living in remote areas or with limited mobility might consider joining an established online support group.
When depression has its crushing grip on your thoughts and emotions, it can feel as though life will never get better. However, it’s essential to remember that it’s your depression that’s triggering those feelings of hopelessness. Work with a professional who has the tools and skills to treat depression. Make life-affirming lifestyle changes as part of your healing journey as well. Be patient. You’ll find that the hopelessness and despair that once seemed to define your life will begin to lift, making the world a much brighter place.