Mental Health Memo: Suicide Prevention Month

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About the author: Dominic Alvernaz PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist at the Human Services Center (HSC) and serves as the staff psychologist for HSC’s adolescent program. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, sports, and spending time with his wife and two children.

The Greek poet Theocritus once famously wrote “while there’s life, there’s hope”. Though these words were penned over two thousand years ago, this sentiment persists today, often in the Latin phrase Dum spiro spero, “While I breathe, I hope”. While this admirable sentiment speaks to a relentless spirit of perseverance, research suggests a more accurate phrase would be “while I hope, I breathe.” Hope has long been known to be important to mental wellness, and hopelessness has repeatedly been identified as a key predictor of suicide. In fact, some researchers describe hopelessness as the link between depression and suicidal ideation.

The importance of hope is also apparent in a variety of real-world examples. For instance, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl discussed how being interned in a concentration camp during World War II led him to the belief mankind needs a source of meaning. To illustrate this, he tells the story of a fellow detainee who persistently expressed hope of being reunited with his wife and daughter. However, one day word came his wife and daughter had died. This man, who previously had been one of the healthiest in the camp, died a short time later. He lost his hope, and his life soon followed. It was not breathing which gave him hope, but hope which helped him to breathe.

With this in mind, let us focus on building hope this fall season. While this may seem daunting, it often only requires a bit of time and intentionality. Below are some tips regarding how to inspire a sense of hope in ourselves and those around us.

Personal Hope 

A first step in building personal hope is to consider how our lives may improve. This can be done through focusing on goals we wish to accomplish and making a plan to pursue them. A good way to do this is by identifying both short (daily and weekly) and long (monthly and yearly) term goals. The simple act of planning and achieving small accomplishments can improve both feelings of control and hope in the future. The goals identified can relate to almost anything (e.g. daily habits, relationships, work, fitness, etc.). The important part is they have meaning to us.

A second way to build hope is to consider how we positively impact others. Whether it be a soldier fighting for his comrades and country, or a single parent working two jobs to give their children a chance at a better life, history is full of individuals who have persevered through incredible hardship for the sake of someone else. Underlying this perseverance is often the hope that one’s actions will benefit those they love. Similarly, focusing on the importance of our actions to others can help us find hope and meaning in times of struggle. If this process is difficult, consider consulting with a friend or family member. Others often appreciate us more than we realize.

A third way to foster a sense of hope is through cultivating one’s religious/spiritual beliefs. Life can be filled with challenges or seem unfair, and material success is often fleeting. Faith in a higher power can provide both a sense of meaning in hardship and kindle hope in something that is well beyond life’s struggles.

Hope Derived from Others

Mental illness and suicidal ideation can feel overwhelming, making it difficult to build hope alone. However, through focusing on others and their needs, we can strengthen our own sense of hope. While seeking professional help is definitely a good idea, there are several relatively simple yet impactful actions we can take to help spark hope in others. The first step is intentionally reaching out and investing time in others. Humans naturally long for healthy connections, and feeling valued and accepted provides the basis for the hope of future positive relationships. When intentionally spending time with others, it is generally best to put away distractions and simply talk or engage in an activity. If someone is not geographically close, a phone or video call can be a good way to show we care.

Hope Through Affirmation

A third way we can encourage hope in others is by expressing appreciation for their actions. The things we appreciate can be everyday things, such as a positive attitude, good grades, hard work, or household chores. When expressing this appreciation, it is best to describe the specific behavior which is appreciated and describe why. As noted above, feeling our actions have a positive impact inspires hope that our actions matter.

I wish you hope this fall season wherever you may find it. However, if you feel hopeless, I encourage you to talk with someone, whether it be a friend, family member, mental health professional, or the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Often times, hope is there, just out of sight, and all we need is a bit of help finding it.

To learn more about 988, how to support someone and the resources available, visit


The mission of the Human Services Center (HSC) is to provide individuals with a mental health or substance use disorder or both with effective, individualized professional treatment enabling them to achieve their highest level of personal independence in the most therapeutic environment.


The mission of the Division of Behavioral Health is to strengthen and support children, youth and adults with behavioral health needs through prevention and early interventions services, community-based substance use disorder and mental health services, crisis care and recovery support services and psychiatric hospitalization. The goal of the continuum of behavioral health services is to foster independent and healthy individuals and families in South Dakota.


To read previous editions of the Mental Health Memo visit