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Have you ever felt like giving up on life?
The more you think about this question, the harder to answer it may become. We’ve all had moments of hopelessness — a deadline, a project, a sports match. Typically, however, when we confess to a lack of hope, it precedes a story about “pushing through.”
Despair is an extreme emotion. We’ve all exclaimed, “I give up” at some point in our lives, but the line between a little exaggeration and a concerning mental state is a fairly significant one.
The fact is, there’s a significant difference between giving up on something, and giving up on everything.
If you’ve ever felt like giving up on life, or if you feel that way right now, there are some important things you need to know about this feeling. It may help you understand how you found hope when you felt it before… and how to find hope now, if you’re feeling hopeless again.
Hopelessness, despair and the desire to give up are big-picture feelings. They’re umbrellas that shelter a hundred smaller symptoms of mental distress under something more generic.
Despair, it could be argued, isn’t one feeling, but a collection of feelings.
Most people who feel despair feel that way because they don’t believe they’re in control of their choices. This is typically reflective of a negative attitude. A person feels like giving up because they think nothing they do can fix or correct or overcome what lies before them.
There were some terrible animal studies that have gone on in the past that we’ll spare you, but suffice it to say that any living creature can begin to feel like giving up if there’s no sense of hope or of control.
You’ve probably expected us to talk about suicidal thoughts at some point, and we’ve arrived at that difficult topic.
Giving up doesn’t necessarily mean someone is suicidal, but there can be overlap between someone who has lost hope and a sense of control over their destiny, and someone who might consider giving up by taking their own life.
Suicidal ideation is more than just a sense of despair: it’s having thoughts or ideas about suicide, specifically. “Ideation” covers a lot of varying levels of seriousness, from contemplation to wishes.
It’s worth clarifying that suicidal ideation is not a suicide attempt. As such, ideation is more common and, thankfully, most people who ideate about suicide don’t go through with it.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to predict who will make an attempt and who won’t, and it’s hard to spot ideation unless someone voluntarily shares that information with someone.
In other words, the space between despair, giving up, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts is a hard space to define, which is part of the reason that understanding these feelings is so life-alteringly important in the first place.
A sense of powerlessness is one of the most obvious causes behind someone’s desire to “give up,” and it can come from a lot of sources.
You might feel helpless if you’re dealing with, among many other things:
Experts point to situations like postpartum motherhood and careers where the work never seems to accomplish anything as prime sources of helplessness.
Many of these situations can also create a negative pattern of thought — you stop looking for the silver lining, the meaning or the chance to change something because you just give up on the hope of ever seeing it again.
In many cases, negative patterns of thought are a telltale sign of depression, by the way.
It’s a perfect explanation for why people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a type of depression caused by a changing of the seasons (typically, in the cold, dark winter months).
Even though we all know that summer will come again eventually, some peoples’ brains nevertheless find despair without the sun and warmth in their days.
Should you get help? Yes, obviously you should get help.
Whether it’s a general feeling of despair, a suicidal urge or something much more mild, symptoms of psychiatric disorders like depression aren’t anything to ignore.
Think of it this way: if isolation and despair are part of the bigger problem here, then communication, connection and hope (wherever you find it) are likely big pieces of the cure. You fight social withdrawal by pursuing a socially active life.
Okay, cheesy writing aside, there are some real, proven techniques for combatting all these feelings, and they come from the depressive disorder treatment playbook.
The three main solutions for depression and depressive thoughts are widely considered to be therapy, medication and lifestyle changes, and you may be tasked by a mental health professional with one, two or all three of these in pursuit of your previous self.
You can learn more about both from our mental health online services.
The wild card in the trio is lifestyle changes. Reducing alcohol and drug use, exercising, eating better and prioritizing your sleep can all positively affect your physical health and mental health, and can help reduce the symptoms of depressive disorders for some people.
Finally, if things have become particularly grim, and your desire to give up has taken a more permanent focus, it’s time to talk to someone about suicidal thoughts. Suicide prevention is crucial to people who have begun to feel wholly hopeless. If this describes you, get help now and talk to someone.
It’s a permanent “solution” to impermanent problems. Nothing — nothing you could be going through — is solvable with suicide.
Some days, it can feel like there’s no reason to get out of bed. But when a good night’s sleep doesn’t change your feelings the next morning, one bad day has become a pattern — a pattern you need to interrupt.
If you’re feeling like you don’t want to live anymore, there are resources available to you right now. Use them.
Your life is more important than the things that have brought you to this point. Bad relationships, less-than-stellar parents, terrible jobs, debt — it can all be a lot, but none of these things matter enough for you not to be here tomorrow.
As for the malaise of non-life-threatening hopelessness, it doesn’t suck any less. And it’s probably time to send it packing and get back to living, pushing forward and achieving your life’s goals.
The expectations of life we have are rarely accurate to our actual life, but that doesn’t mean you’re not the author of your life story.
If you’re dealing with anxiety disorders, depressive symptoms or other psychiatric disorder issues that have brought you to the edge of hope, it’s time to get help. Our online therapy support network is just a click away, and you can get help without even getting out of bed. We also have online psychiatry where you can get depression and anxiety medication online.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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