Suicidal thoughts and hope exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, and one withers in the face of the other. A good means for challenging suicidal thoughts, then, is to cultivate hope. That is the aim of the “hope box.”
The premise is simple: Get a box (or a bag, or a large envelope, or anything else that can hold objects) and fill it with reminders of the things that give you hope, or that have given you hope in the past. You may even want to decorate your hope box creatively. Some people decorate a shoe box and make a fun project of it.
Items in a hope box may include:
- Letters or printed emails that mean a lot to you
- Photos of special times you have had – or of special times you hope to have, such as photos of a vacation spot or an activity you enjoy doing
- Photos of loved ones
- Inspirational quotes
- Bible verses, if you are religious
- Articles or columns that you find meaningful
- Jokes that make you laugh
- Anything else that reminds you of reasons to stay alive
The hope box is a technique used in cognitive behavioral therapy, as this article explains. The idea is to arm yourself to fight the tunnel vision and distorted thinking that can occur with suicidal thoughts – to give yourself reminders of hope even when when you feel none.
I also recommend, if you have the strength and hope already to do this, writing a letter to yourself for when you feel acutely suicidal. This letter could “talk” to your future self and remind yourself of reasons for living, as well as ways you have coped with difficult times in the past.
You might also want to put a copy of your safety plan in the hope box; the safety plan lists things you can do personally to help yourself feel better when you think of suicide, people you can call to talk to (with phone numbers), and places you can go for help.
It is also recommended that you put things in the hope box that can serve as a distraction to suicidal thoughts. For example, if you enjoy sudoku or crossword puzzles, that could be something to put in your hope box. In this regard, the hope box can also be thought of as an emotional first aid kit.
You can also create a hope box of sorts with apps for the iPhone (and presumably for Android phones as well). These apps are free. One is called Virtual Hope Box, with tools for coping, relaxation, distraction, and positive thinking. Another is called, simply enough, Hope Box.
What helps awaken hope in you? What are the physical reminders of those experiences that you can put in your hope box?
UPDATED May 2014: I added current information about the iPhone apps, as well as information about the cognitive-behavioral theory underlying the hope box.
© 2013 Stacey Freedenthal. All Rights Reserved. Written for Speaking of Suicide.
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