Hope, Optimism, and Hopelessness: Conceptual Distinctions and Empirical Associations with Suicidal Ideation

2019-01-17T13:53:24Z (GMT) by Mackenzie Shanahan
Trait expectancies are related to several aspects of psychological well-being. Specifically, hope, optimism, and hopelessness have been associated with positive and negative indicators of mental health, including suicidality. In addition to empirical similarities, these constructs also have substantial conceptual and measurement overlap. Moreover, while current literature suggests hope and optimism are unique constructs, the distinctions between hopelessness, hope, and optimism remain unclear. The main goals of the present study were: 1) to identify the best structural conceptualization of hope, optimism, and hopelessness; and 2) to apply this conceptualization to examine how different trait expectancies uniquely predict suicidal ideation. Undergraduate students (N= 456) completed a battery of questionnaires at two time points, two months apart. To achieve the first goal, a series of a priori factor models of hope, optimism, and hopelessness was tested using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). CFA was also performed to confirm the best factor structure of suicidal ideation. Finally, using results from these CFAs, the differential relationships between trait expectancies and suicidal ideation were examined using latent variable path analysis. Results showed that hope, optimism, and hopelessness are best conceptualized as distinct but related constructs. Results also found that both hope and hopelessness predicted increased suicidal ideation over time; whereas, optimism was not predictive of suicidal ideation. Surprisingly, these results suggest that higher hope may be a risk factor for increased suicidal ideation among undergraduates.