Dr. Helen’s discussion of suicide (especially the role of cognition in suicide prevention) reminded me of a vintage film I had the pleasure to watch recently. Charles Chaplin wrote and directed Limelight in 1952 (when his career was in tatters and he was about to be unceremoniously kicked out of the United States), and he plays an autobiographically based character who saves a beautiful young woman from suicide.
The problem is that saving her from physical suicide did not supply her with any will to go on living, so the two of them get into a philosophical debate. It’s fascinating to see this washed-up, once-great comedian (reduced to being a Skid Row denizen) offer wonderful reasons for living, because she’s the one who should be wanting to live, and he’s the one who by all rights should have given up.
It’s beautiful and compelling logic, and thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I found the dialogue here (the clown is Chaplin; the ballerina is the girl he saved):

Ballerina: I can’t stay here, causing you all this trouble.
Clown: I’m not complaining.
Ballerina: You should, I’m such a bore.
But it’s not my fault. You would save my life.
Clown: Well, we all make mistakes!
Ballerina: I’m sorry.
Clown: You should be. A young girl like you wanting to throw your life away.
When you’re my age, you’ll want to hang on to it.
Ballerina: Why?
Clown: Well, at this stage of the game life gets to be a habit.
Ballerina: A hopeless one.
Clown: Then live without hope. Live for the moment.
There are still, there are still… There are still wonderful moments.
Ballerina:But if you’ve lost your health!
Clown: My dear, I was given up for dead six months ago, but I fought back. That’s what you must do.
Ballerina: I’m tired of fighting.
Clown: Because you’re fighting yourself. You won’t give yourself a chance. But the fight for happiness is beautiful.

Sorry, but “live without hope” is just brilliant. I’ve often heard it said that hopelessness is a primary cause of suicide, yet I’ve rarely seen such a poignant refutation of the idea that hopelessness is a legitimate argument in favor of suicide. The “clown” is absolutely right of course. Even in the total absence of hope for the future, there can always be wonderful moments in the present. And if the future sucks (or seems to) such moments can also serve as wonderful distractions. (Needless to say, Chaplin’s character has no money and cannot even pay his rent; but the idea of that as a reason for suicide is as comical as the tactics he uses to stall the ever-clueless landlady.)
With hopelessness thus rendered irrelevant as a justification for suicide, Chaplin then (without skipping a beat) moves directly to the concept of happiness. Rejecting the logic that the lack of happiness is grounds for suicide, he argues in favor of replacing it with the fight for happiness.
And if you think about it, happiness is worth fighting for whether you get there or not. Isn’t there something in the Declaration of Independence to the effect that we all share a right to pursue happiness?
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say the fight for happiness is beautiful.
And hopelessness is a judgment
Back to Dr. Helen:

It is not your job to be the therapist of a depressed spouse or friend, but do some reality testing. If the depressed person says things are hopeless, counter with some evidence to the contrary. If other people are putting your loved one down at work, in the news, or in general, reassure them that you do not feel this way and let them know that they they are more than what other people think about them. What other people think changes with the culture. Today’s scapegoat can be tomorrow’s comeback kid. As one of my favorite bumper sticker says, “No condition is permanent.”

Absolutely true. Anyone who’s had so much as a bad acid trip knows that the awful stuff will wear off, but when you’re in the middle of it, it can seem deceptively permanent.
While I love Chaplin’s rejection of the hopelessness meme, I also think that considering the vastness of that mystery we call “life,” hopelessness is a temporary state which passes itself off as a permanent state.
Don’t fall for it.
And don’t surrender your right to pursue happiness.
As it is, there are plenty of people who devote their lives to making others unhappy, and they take delight in undermining our natural right to pursue happiness. By any reasonable standard, that is simply unfair. I mean, I’m all for the right to pursue happiness, but people who find happiness by making others unhappy are really screwed up in the head, and it seems to me that fighting them whenever possible increases the overall happiness quotient.
Who knows? It might even induce occasional feelings of personal happiness.