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Pinpoints of Hope

I recently had a conversation with one of my supervisors about suicide prevention among teens.  We discussed the discomfort clinicians often feel when a teenager mentions suicide.  Questions race through our minds: How serious are they?  Are they safe?  How can we help them move past this crisis?


One strategy we explored involves asking teens, “What can you accomplish?”  This question encourages them to think about the future, despite their current struggles.  Of course, teens are known for their snarky responses, much like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are known for going together.  Or a tuna fish sandwich with potato chips on top; at least, that’s my favorite combination. 


During our talk, I remembered a client from my time in homeless services.  He was in his mid-twenties and his dream was to play in the NFL.  Together, we broke down this long-term goal into small, achievable steps.  We essentially created a treatment plan, guiding him toward a life beyond homelessness, one small step at a time.


So, what can teens accomplish?  While their initial answers might be snarky, therapists can translate these into positive skills.  For example, if a teen brags about drinking six energy drinks in a day, we can explore what that means.  Maybe the energy drinks help them stay awake or focused.  This behavior reflects their problems-solving skills.


We can point out to the teen that their use of energy drinks shows independence and strength.  Even strong will, often seen as a negative trait, can be reframed positively.  If the teen is quiet during this conversation, we might ask them what other needs or problems the energy drinks address.  Getting the teen to “buy in” is crucial; otherwise, we’re just another adult talking without making an impact.


What can you accomplish?  The answer might be, “I can find ways to stay awake and energized to get through my day.”


Suicide can drag someone into a deep, dark pit with no light, no hope, and no apparent way out.  When we see someone in that pit, our instinct is to solve their problems and get them out immediately.  But have you ever been in a literally dark place?  When someone turns on a bright light, your first reaction might be to cover your eyes or hide.  The sudden brightness can be overwhelming.


Similarly, someone in a dark emotional pit might not be ready for a bright spotlight of hope.  Instead, small pinpoints of hope, like helping them recognize their small accomplishments, can be more effective.  These small steps can guide them out of the pit gradually and more comfortably.


Pinpoints of hope – these small, believable steps – can offer just the right amount of light to someone surrounded by thoughts of suicide.


If you or someone you know is struggling, please call and ask for help. Call 988, 911, or go to a local hospital emergency room. Please call because, alive, you can live to find out what you can accomplish and, truth be told, it is probably far more than you realize.

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