The phrase “hour of need” is an idiomatic expression that means someone is having a very difficult time and may be in a desperate situation. It does not refer to a literal hour as a measurement of time. Instead, it means a person is at a specific time in his life in which he truly needs something if he is to survive, recover from his problems and move on with his life.
Someone’s hour of need could refer to a time period when he has a medical problem from which he may not recover; he is in a life-or-death situation. He could be on his deathbed or might need emergency surgery. The person also might be in the intensive care unit of a hospital, recovering from a terrible accident. A person in any of these life-threatening situations could truly be described as being in his hour of need.
Financial problems also could be the basis for a person being said to be in his hour of need. A person who is just about to lose his home to foreclosure after losing his job is said to be experiencing an hour of need, as is a person who has already lost his home. This also applies to a person who has limited financial resources as a result of working a low-paying job and has to decide between paying the light bill and buying groceries.
Financial or medical problems are not the only indicators that people are in their hour of need. People who are undergoing severe psychological trauma are often in desperate situations, aptly described as their hour of need. Suicidal thoughts or feelings stemming from the loss of a marriage or close relationship, or the loss of an arm to injury can mean the person having those thoughts is in his hour of need. Patients with severe mental illnesses may also desperately require help in their hour of need. Ideally, a person will have friends or loved ones to help them out in their most desperate time.
While this phrase often refers to people in desperate, life-changing need, there is some leeway in how it is used, depending on a person's individual situation. A person who has a great job that he loves, a wonderful family, excellent physical and mental health, lots of close friends, and an overall superb life still might fit the phrase if his car breaks down on a relatively quiet road. Until the situation is resolved, it is a time of somewhat desperate — if temporary — need.