The Hope Box

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. Photos purchased from

Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.

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25 Reader Comments

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  1. Xander says:

    What do you do when you don’t want to have hope? It feels worse when hopes are dashed than it does to just not hope in the first place.

  2. john coleman says:


  3. Mehran says:

    I read many books about happiness but they did not work. They were like pain-killer pills which the effects worn off in couple of hours. I am living in Iran, Here every thing is different. I am an intellectual person who dedicate his life to be a well-known person but what I got, nothing. as well as sanction against Iran, some cruel persons are in power. There is no hope for improvement here. my prospect in life is bleak. I do not dare to kill myself. I hoped covid 19 would help me to get over from this painful life but I have not still caught it. I wish it come soon and relieve me from this unfair life. An animal in foreign country worth more than human being here. If living in Iran with such a horrible situation is my destiny, I do not want to live.

    [This comment was edited to abide by the Comments Policy. – SF]

  4. Sue says:

    This is a BEAUTIFUL tool. Hope and Pray many PRECIOUS lives are saved before it’s just Too Late

  5. sherry says:

    I just wanted to say the “Hope Box” probably works for many people, but there are some of us that truly doesn’t have any hope. That isn’t irrational thinking, but truth and realistic thinking. When I deeply look inside and out of my life to try and find hope the closest I can find is making up things that sound good but there is no truth for realistic hope. I look at the family that I have left and not a one of them could I ever talk to about how I’m really feeling. I’m sure if I was gone they may shed a tear at my burial , go out to a dinner , forget and go on. I really do know the extent of their caring. I started with a Heart attack into Heart Failure at 39 which I almost died.After that I was full of hope and looked at each day as a gift as I was told I probably had a Max of 5 years before my heart would give out. Well it’s 8 years exactly tomorrow and I’m still alive but have lost all my hope and look at each day as torture.During my failing health issues I lost my car, my house,every”thing” that I held precious through my life.. gone. Presently I live in my grandmother’s house (who just passed away 2 weeks ago) which I’m about to lose. I’m on disability ,as if heart failure wasn’t enough I’ve had a stroke with other spinal issues that’s left me in 24/7 severe pain and unable to walk for the last almost 4 years. My very best friend that I use to be able to talk to about all my problems he died 2 years ago. The rest of my friends I haven’t seen since I haven’t been able to walk .Some I would keep in touch with on FB or phone, but now none has the time to even talk. I have 3 son’s ages 21 to 26. My oldest has straight out told me more than once “I should already be dead ..the Dr said less than 5 years! What is the point for you to be here when you can’t even walk and need me to drive you to your Dr’s appointments, or go get your meds,and go to the grocery store for you, you’re just a burden taking up my time”. My youngest son says often “he doesn’t want to be here, to be around me or the rest of the family. My middle son is the only 1 of the 3 that I feel that I do matter to even if it’s just a little.His life is consumed in computer games. So many times over these last 8 years I have been in the hospital . The last 3 years while I have been admitted my only visitor has been my mother. So I for sure know my family is tired of me. My sons love it when I’m in the hospital and get mad when I’m discharged. There are just so many things wrong that just can’t be fixed . Thinking differently won’t change anything. Lastly, I have tried talking to my Dr’s I have even told them of my plan, each one has responded the same way…offering me Antidepressants. I did take them 2 years ago but it was more to help my pain not for depression, anyway they caused me to have another heart attack. I just don’t see a reason to take a drug that messes with your brain to make you feel numb or happier but nothing changes for real!

    • Karm says:

      Don’t try to recieve happiness from others. There may be many people who love u. Try to find happiness around u. DON’T GIVE UP.

      • Donna says:

        I’m desperate but too scared to leave behind my pain for the people I love. But here I am making them sad. I just want the decision taken away from me. Every headache is hope for a fatal aneurism. Every indigestion is hope for a fatal heart attack. Every time I get into the car, I pray for a fatal accident. I hate how I feel and how my situation is as painful for my husband. Which would be worse? Living in my misery with me or sadness when I’m gone?

        • Petra says:

          I feel the same Donna. I feel for you. In a way now I feel like I am not the only one, who feels that way so thank you for sharing. I hope you have managed to turn things around.

    • melissa says:

      Thinking differently – forcing yourself too – and engaging in ways to help others gives hope. I know the feelings and thoughts you have shared. It is torture. I am sorry for all your losses, but find a light in your body and let it grow.

    • Jello123 says:

      Hi Sherry. I’m just wondering if you’re still around in 2021? Your story sounds so abysmal. I hope it’s gotten at least a little better or you’ve been put out of your misery by God and you’re in Heaven now.

  6. Lynette Vega says:

    Thank you for sharing this idea. I also like the idea of it called an emotional first aid kit. My daughter Rachelle Marie Sloan of 23 years, was one of the 10% that died by suicide after an attempt 2 months prior. I tried to give her hope. I told her constantly there is light at the end of the tunnel. To remember every day is a new day, which I am grateful for. I truly believe she would still be alive if she had the right medication, the right doctors, and the right therapy. I have had my suicidal moments. I had to reach out and ask for help. I continue to reach out. I have great ideas for my emotional first aid kit. I really like the idea of writing a letter to your future self. Thanks again!

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I am so sorry about the loss of your daughter Rachelle Marie Sloan. What a tragedy! And I’m grateful that you are still with us. I enjoy hearing that the post was helpful to you. May you continue building that kit!

    • Jello123 says:

      I found your beautiful daughter’s online memorial. I’m so sorry for your profound loss. I hope you’re healing from this trauma and have found some happiness in your life. God Bless.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is great! I love it! Thank you!

  8. F says:

    This is a beautiful idea. I’m worried that I would twist around anything I write and use it to play into the suicidal thoughts in a bad time. I’m just coming out of a devastating suicidal period and hope is a massive part of it, but I can see now that the irrationality of my thoughts would have taunted me with the kind of things I would want to put in there now. I still feel like my kids would be 100% better off without me even though I love them to bits. I’m scared for the future, that I’m not strong enough to keep going & can’t fight it all over again. I love this idea though.., wish I could bottle up just a fragment of true hope to keep safe xxx

    • Anonymous says:

      Your babies will NEVER be better off without YOU! NEVER say that! Mine is the only reason I am still breathing. Everyday sucks when you want to eat a bullet, I know but your babies need you.

      • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

        “Anonymous,” this is the trick of suicide and whatever drives it (depression, etc.): it makes people believe things that they would not otherwise believe if they were able to take a broader perspective. So, as I describe in my post The People You Would Leave Behind, suicidal people often believe that they are a burden to others and that others would be better off without them, when people who look objectively at the situation can see that is so far from the truth that it hurts. It is what the mind does. It is not fair to the person or to those who love him or her, and it is a big reason why I am so passionate about suicide prevention – the fact that, the vast majority of the time, people who seriously consider suicide simply are not thinking rationally, as evidenced by the fact that 90% of people who attempt suicide do not go on to die by suicide.

        I am glad your children remain a reason for living for you. May it always be so! And if you were to start thinking otherwise, I hope you will recognize that as a symptom that you need to make a change, whether that change is to start therapy, change medications, ask for help, or whatever else might apply to you and your life.

        Thanks for sharing!

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “F,” it sounds from your comment that you recognize that your suicidal thoughts are not rational. If I read your comment correctly, you also know it is irrational to think that your “kids would be 100% better off” without you. At least, I hope you know it is irrational! I understand that many mothers and fathers die by suicide even though they love their children. Their minds trick them into thinking that the children would be better off, that they will get over it, that they will move on to new relationships, etc. This really is a trick of the mind. Suicide lies. It distorts memories, thoughts, and beliefs. Please don’t believe it!

      I hope you will also recognize that suicide is tricking you into feeling no hope. It doesn’t mean that hope will never come again, only that you cannot access it now.

      Have you checked out the post Talking Back to Suicidal Thoughts? It might be helpful to you. Same with the posts Letter from a Therapist to a Suicidal Person, Coping Statements for Suicidal Thoughts, and others in the section of this website for people who think about suicide.

      Also, given what you’ve said about your thoughts, I recommend the book How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person’s Guide to Suicide Prevention. It contains excellent tools for getting through the hopeless times and not believing suicide.

      Thanks for sharing, and remember to go day by day, even hour by hour, minute by minute! Whatever works.

      • Donna says:

        I appreciate your kind compassionate comments to “F”. I’ve heard over and over how “selfish” suicide is. How we will be terribly missed if we do it. My children are happily struggling to work and raise their own children. The truth is they will all be sad but WILL go on without me. My situation has been relatively short (5 years) and besides being a coward, I just don’t want this “me” to be my legacy. I don’t want to be another stat. It’s selfish of others to want us to continue to live with daily pain and therefore depression and anxiety. The cause for my wanting to die is that all the doctors think I’m “faking” though blood tests and x-rays show otherwise. I’m so exhausted from fighting so hard for my life. I miss “me” so much. This world is NOT a better place because of me. It’s a much worse place for me and my loved ones. But I’m a coward.

    • TE Roche says:

      My son thought the same about us being better off without him, and he was wrong, as you are wrong. You are beautifully imperfect and your children love you. Please stay for them. I miss my son every second of every day, and so would your children miss you. Sending virtual hugs and good vibes your way.

  9. nikky44 says:

    I started my “hope box last week in therapy. Today I finished decorating it. Next week I am supposed to start filling it with hope, although for now, I still can’t see any.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hi nikky44, I sure hope you can find some hope. Do any of the ideas in this post give you some places to start? I wrote the post a year ago and I see that I left off some important possibilities, like lyrics to meaningful songs, and pictures of pets. If you come up with some other ideas, I hope you’ll share.

      Once I heard someone say that if you have trouble thinking of things to feel grateful or hopeful about, imagine that overnight you lost everything you own, everyone you loved, and everything good about yourself, such as health and intelligence. Then ask yourself, what would you miss? This can help people to recognize what they take for granted, and what they really cherish even if they don’t always know it.

      Good luck!

    • nikky44 says:

      Thank you very much for your reply. I love the thoughts of the lyrics. I decorated my box with stickers of cats because my cat makes me smile. I have a folder in my email inbox where I kept the messages I received from my favorite friend, the one who saved my life, but lately reading those emails break my heart even more.
      It might seem weird to say that, but I am so grateful for anything and everything. I am grateful for the best moments I had but also for the worst. Gratitude is my life or else I wouldn’t be here, but for me it’s so different from hope. I don’t even know if I need hope. I think I don’t. It’s not what I need because hope is for the future, what I need is now, something for the moment I live and the coming ones. The only thing that help me survive the present is love.
      I did lose everything. I lost my 2 jobs, my family, my home, my country, the house I worked for 17 years before I could have.

      • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

        Hi nikky44, the power of your gratitude is intense. How amazing that with all you’ve lost – and that is quite a list – you are still able to tap into gratitude not only for the best moments, but also for the worst. I agree with you that gratitude is different from hope. Both are so valuable.

        I hope you will hang in there and see what else life will give you to be grateful for. Your gratitude, and your ability to maintain it, can be a beacon for others.

        Thanks for writing!

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