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What Is the Beck Hopelessness Scale?

By Eugene P.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS) is a questionnaire in which a patient answers "true" or "false" to a series of 20 statements that test his or her feelings about the future. The purpose of completing the questionnaire is to determine the likelihood that a particular person will attempt suicide. Since the Beck Hopelessness Scale was first tested and used, it has proved to be a valuable tool with a high level of accuracy when attempting to determine a person's risk of suicide. The scale is a derivation of the Beck Depression Inventory, another test used to determine the level of depression a patient is experiencing.

Patients utilizing the scale respond to a series of 20 statements that are phrased in the first person. The patient classifies each statement as true or false, assessing his or her own feelings. At the end, the responses to the statements are totaled according to a key to find the patient's rank on the Hopelessness Scale; a higher number indicates a higher risk of suicide.

The scale rates the patient’s potential for suicide as one of four possible results. A score of 3 or lower means there is a minimal risk of suicide. A score between 4 and 8 indicates a mild risk. Scores that range from 9 to 14 indicate a moderate chance of suicide, while scores of 15 or higher show a severe risk of suicide. The reliability of the Beck Hopelessness Scale is very high and has been shown to be a very good assessment of risk.

More than half the assessment statements on the Beck Hopelessness Scale were adapted from statements actually made by psychiatric patients who were diagnosed as being in a depressed and hopeless frame of mind. The remaining questions on the test were constructed as being neutral statements relating to hopeless attitudes about the future. Through peer review, the statements were carefully scrutinized and reworded to be as clear and neutral as possible.

The Beck Hopelessness Scale was tested extensively on groups of patients who were in high-risk groups. It also was later tested on groups that were substance abusers, excluding alcoholics. The questionnaire was shown to be highly accurate when administered to high-risk patients and drug users who were adults. The validity of the test is unknown for children and is slightly less accurate when given to patients who are not in a group that is at a high risk for suicide.

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Discussion Comments
By aishia — On Sep 07, 2011

Hi all. Is there anywhere online where you can read the questions in the Beck Hopelessness Scale test? I don't think I could judge whether I thought it was effective unless I could read the questions myself.

Also, for a long time I've wondered if I would ever have it in me to commit suicide (just out of curiosity, not that I'm going to), so I'm interested in what my own answers would be. I'm a curious kind of person, but I know if I asked to actually take the test then people would immediately think I was entertaining thoughts of suicide and panic and want me to go check myself in to suicide watch or something.

Just to reiterate, I do not want to die, I just want to see what questions I would have to answer to be in a state of mind to do so -- see?

Anyway, anybody know where I could read the Beck Hopelessness Scale test questions without actually going to take the test? Thanks for reading.

By Hawthorne — On Sep 06, 2011

@ahain - Sometimes being "bummed out" enough becomes mental illness. People who are perfectly fine can have a life-changing thing happen to them, and even if it isn't traumatic, it can eat away at them until they get suicidal. Take orangey03's aunt as a great example of this.

The Beck Hopelessness Scale isn't about mental illness or diagnosing people with anything, and I think that's what people here are disagreeing about the most -- whether it's good enough to help diagnose somebody's mental health.

And the answer is of course not, it's just a good way to tell whether they feel suicidal or not. Why is an entirely different question, and of course it would take further examination, including more questions than these default 20. For the purpose it was invented for, the Beck Hopelessness Scale does a fine job -- as orangey03 knows since their aunt didn't end up killing herself.

By ahain — On Sep 05, 2011

@backdraft - Hey, I get what you're saying about psychiatric stuff have some "golden mean" to hold all people's mental states against and compare with the Beck Hopelessness Scale and other tests. It's not really like that, though. Psychiatry is a lot more complicated -- there are literally dozens, if not hundreds of mental states that are considered perfectly healthy and normal.

Psychiatrists divide tendencies into types and subtypes and use those to compare to people who may have a problem, to see if they have any unusual traits for an average person with that mental type. Yes, they're a generalized view, but the generalized standard was formed from analyzing information about thousands of real patients and how they behaved -- it wasn't invented as the "theoretical perfect brain".

Anyway, if somebody answers the questions on the Beck Hopelessness Scale truthfully, obviously agreeing with many of them is going to reveal that they are very hopeless. Whether they're mentally ill or not is another thing; I know I would agree to hopeless statements easier if I was in a bummed out mood than I would if I'd had a good day, even if I didn't particularly feel like ending my life.

By gimbell — On Sep 05, 2011

@summing - I can see where both you and backdraft are coming from. My own opinion is somewhere in the middle.

I think it's good for efficiency to use the Beck Hopelessness Scale to tell suicidal tendencies in people like prisoners, who as you've said don't have enough budget allotted to them to get a full mental makeup.

That said, I think they should have a follow up more detailed mental examination. If they're suicidal, there's a reason -- watching them will prevent them from killing themselves, but not from fixing it, obviously.

By orangey03 — On Sep 04, 2011

My aunt became severely depressed after her husband died. He had been in seemingly good health, but a blood clot claimed his life at the young age of 31. This caused her to lose all hope in life. She did not want to spend the next fifty or sixty years of her life without him, and we feared she might kill herself.

We talked her into getting help. She ended up ranking high risk on the Beck Hopelessness Scale, so she stayed at a mental health facility for a month to get help and to protect herself from her depression.

I am grateful for the scale. Without it, the psychiatrist may not have recommended that she stay in the facility. He could have sent her home, where she might have died.

By summing — On Sep 03, 2011

@backdraft - I can appreciate what you are saying but I think this test is more useful than you give it credit for. Think of it this way, it is only one tool in a whole tool belt. It is not the only test that will be used, but it is one which contributes pieces to the puzzle.

Another thing to think about is that the test is efficient. Not all diagnosis involves people who seek out help and are looking for long term treatment. This test is occasionally administered to new prisoners to get a sense if they should be kept on suicide watch. There is not enough time or money to rely on a full psych workup. We have to rely on tool like this to get a quick picture and make a fast determination.

By backdraft — On Sep 02, 2011

I can respect that mental health professionals need to utilize empirical measures in their work, but I have a really hard time believing that any 20 question survey can give you a deep enough look into a person's mind or heart to tell you if they are suicidal. In fact, I'm inclined to think that this test would not provide any information that couldn't be gleaned more usefully from other sources.

Obviously I have strong feelings about this. I think in a very general way that the diagnosis of mental health relies on very broad indicators that are rarely useful for determining an individuals mental state. We are basically comparing individual brains to some theoretical perfect brain that thinks and feels and operates in perfect order. Problem is, this brain doesn't exits. The mind is way to complicated to rely on reductive tools like this, especially when lives may hang in the balance.

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