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The movies are filled with dramatic scenes where the protagonist appears stuck in a dire situation – the walls are closing in, or the ceiling is coming down, or they are running out of air, or they are surrounded by enemy forces. Even though the audience knows that somehow or another the character will get out, there is still incredible tension. It is part of our biology that the idea of having no escape raises our anxiety.

The warning sign we’re talking about today is where someone feels like there is no escape. Some research has identified these types of thoughts as being particularly critical in the suicidal process. There are three versions of this that are noted: (1) hopeless; (2) desperate; (3) trapped. There are subtle differences that might be helpful to explore.

When someone feels hopeless they are seeing some present circumstance as unbearable and unchangeable. Whether or not the circumstance is unbearable is very subjective, but how did they come to the conclusion that it would never change? What degree of certainty do they (or did they) have about it never changing? It may be difficult to convince someone that an experience is, in fact, bearable. It is less difficult to convince someone that the chance of having a different outcome is greater than 0%.

When someone feels trapped they are seeing a critical problem that has no solution. What about the problem makes it so critical? How have they sought out solutions? Could there be more than one solution to the problem? Would a partial solution be ‘good enough’?

When someone feels desperate they are seeing a problem in urgent need of a solution. What makes it so urgent? Is there someone else involved (i.e., some expected external punishment or reward)? Where have they already sought out help for solving the problem?

Once past the imminent risk of suicide, we are likely to pay close attention to solving whatever problems someone has identified. However, we can also explore their thought-process about the problem, which could grant us an inside perspective on what made that particular problem into a life-threatening situation.

I would love to learn from your experience too. What recovery insights have you encountered or discovered in working with clients who had felt hopeless, desperate, or trapped?