• despair;
  • hopelessness;
  • human immunodeficiency virus;
  • meta-synthesis;
  • nurses;
  • nursing

Aim.  The aim of the study was to explore the concepts of despair and hopelessness in the context of human immunodeficiency virus based on previous studies.

Background.  Some of the consequences of living with human immunodeficiency virus or as a significant other to a person with human immunodeficiency virus include despair and hopelessness.

Methods.  The study is based on five earlier studies describing the dynamics of hope (including despair and hopelessness) in adult persons living with human immunodeficiency virus.

Results.  Despair consists of two sub-processes. The downward sub-process of despair refers to stopping and being stuck in a situation, losing grip and sinking into a narrowing existence, focusing on impossibility and losing perspective of the future. Furthermore, the downward orientation means questioning the possibility of hope. The upward sub-process of despair implies fighting against sinking and fighting to rise back up with a glimmer of hope. Hopelessness is the polar opposite of hope and includes sub-processes of helplessly giving up everything (including hope) and living in emptiness in the face of an assumed non-existing future, collapsing mentally, and becoming paralyzed without reason to live.

Conclusions.  The results of this study support the findings of previous studies revealing that despair and hopelessness are possible elements in the life situation of persons living with human immunodeficiency virus and significant others to persons living with human immunodeficiency virus. The results of this study help to define the contents of despair and hopelessness, and help us to distinguish one from the other. The dual-dimensionality of despair has not been pointed out in previous studies and in this way the present study offers new information about the phenomenon of despair.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The findings of this study offer clinical guidelines on a conceptual level about how to detect these phenomena in persons living with human immunodeficiency virus and their significant others. Furthermore, the findings offer a starting point for interventions used to alleviate despair and hopelessness. Suggestions for suitable interventions are offered. The results of this study underline the clinical relevance of these phenomena in adding new information to the previously documented consequences of despair and hopelessness.