Disclaimer: The following article discusses mental health and is intended for informational purposes only; it should not replace medical attention. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please reach out to your national hotline: 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline in the U.S., or 1-833-456-4566 to reach the Canada Suicide Prevention Service. 

Today, more and more people are being diagnosed with depression and other mental health conditions. Among the symptoms and causes researches are noting in their on-going study, hopelessness is particularly prevalent, especially in the context of suicidal behavior and depression. The Beck Hopelessness Scale is a measurement tool that aims to assess three major aspects of hopelessness, with the goal of better understanding how to treat hopelessness, depression, and suicidal behavior.

How it Works

The Beck Hopelessness Scale is a self-report inventory of 20 items. It has become incredibly prevalent across several fields but is particularly useful in psychotherapeutic efforts. Because it is a self-report inventory, an individual can purchase and take the test him or herself. However, without a licensed professional to interpret the results and advise treatments, the test is less useful. Designers created the test for adults between the ages of 17 and 80. There is too little data to support the interpretation of the results for people outside this age bracket.

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American psychiatrist Aaron Temkin Beck and his colleagues created several psychotherapy instruments. In 1974, they created the Beck Hopelessness Scale. Before its development, there was no empirical way to measure or evaluate hopelessness. Today, the scale remains one of the most extensively used instruments for evaluating hopelessness and has been the subject of many validity studies.

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Possible Questions

Each of the 20 items on the Beck Hopelessness Scale requires a true or false answer and examines the respondent’s attitude and mentality over the past week. Statements include:

  • My past experiences have prepared me well for my future.
  • I just don’t get the breaks, and there is no reason to believe I will in the future.
  • I never get what I want, so it’s foolish to want anything.
  • I happen to be particularly lucky, and I expect to get more of the good things in life than the average person.

Depending on how the respondent answers each of these statements, a licensed professional can determine many things about a patient's mental health.

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At its core, the Beck Hopelessness Scale is simply a way to evaluate hopelessness. However, research shows its effects are not limited to evaluation. The Scale measures three key aspects of hopelessness: loss of motivation, expectations, and feelings about the future. Because of this, it has proven useful in indicating the suicidal risk in a person with depression who has tried to or is planning to commit suicide.

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What Is Hopelessness?

When evaluating hopelessness, it is important to understand the psychotherapy definition of the term. In general, hopelessness is the culmination of the many negative expectations a person has toward himself and his future. Additionally, it is a strong predictor of suicide. Both hopelessness and suicide have a close association with mental disorders, particularly depression. However, depression usually causes negative expectations of the present, while hopelessness causes negative expectations of the future. Understanding hopelessness is an important part of improving health and social care.

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Numerous validation studies have attempted to verify the reliability and accuracy of the Beck Hopelessness Scale. Overall, most of the studies have rated the scale positively. Some studies suggest that the Beck Depression Inventory, another creation of Aaron Beck’s, is more effective. However, the Hopelessness Scale still receives mostly favorable reviews. Two separate studies from the Eleventh Mental Measurement Yearbook conclude that the scale is “a well-constructed and validated instrument” that has “adequate reliability.”

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Though most studies find the Beck Hopelessness Scale to be an effective treatment, it has received some criticisms. Notably, many researchers condemn the scale for its length, suggesting it has too many statements, especially for a person experiencing mental duress. A psychological instrument like the Beck Hopelessness Scale can be stressful for some individuals. Critics argue it is best to keep such tests as short as possible, while still maintaining accuracy.

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Possible Changes

Some researchers suggest that a single statement, “My future seems dark to me,” is all that is necessary for evaluation. Other researchers suggest four items:

  • In the future, I expect to succeed in what concerns me most.
  • My future seems dark to me.
  • I just don’t get the breaks, and there is no reason to believe I will in the future.
  • I have great faith in the future.

According to these experts, two of these items measure an affective component, one a motivational component, and one a cognitive component of hopelessness. This provides similar accuracy to the full Beck Hopelessness Scale and the Beck Depression Inventory.

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Beck Depression Inventory

Some experts believe that the Beck Depression Inventory and the single-question variant of the Beck Hopelessness Scale are better indicators of hopelessness and suicidal desires than the full scale. The Beck Depression Inventory is a 21-question multiple-choice test that measures the severity of a person’s depression. The current version was developed for people over the age of 13 and covers topics such as hopeless, irritability, guilt, and even physical symptoms.

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Other Alternatives

In addition to the Beck Depression Inventory, there are several possible alternatives to the Beck Hopelessness Scale. The Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale also measures how a person has felt over the past week. It includes items such as, “I was happy,” and “I had trouble keeping my mind on what I was doing.” Daniel Shek designed a similar test in 1993 and administered it to over 500 Chinese university students. The Shek’s Hopelessness Scale or the Chinese Hopelessness Scale is found to be more effective in identifying links to depression rather than anxiety or hopelessness.

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