For those of you who are connected with Pushing Back the Shadows on social media, you may have noticed that there has been a running theme over the course of this weekend. For me, it’s been all about tackling what I perceive to be one of the biggest issues in mental health: the onus. I’d like to walk you through that.
The past few weeks have seen the first few posts in our Talking Things Through series run in our Friends and Family Support section. In that series, we look at tackling the big issues surrounding mental health. We also try and equip you for your interactions with people going through mental health struggles. If you haven’t already had a look, why not check it out? It doesn’t mention the onus anywhere but it does give you other insights into how you can help people with mental health struggles.
Today’s post, however, is all about looking at the onus that we place on people. The reason that series I mentioned was called Talking Things Through was because, in my opinion, that’s one thing that we don’t do. Mental Health is stigmatised. We don’t talk about it if we can help it. It’s almost one of those things you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot barge pole.
Yet that’s what we need to do!
A strange thing to be talking about, I know, but I think it’s an important and integral part of dealing with mental health struggles. This post probably won’t win me any friends but, in truth, I didn’t start this site to talk about the nice and comfortable subjects.
So what do I mean about the onus? Well it hides in the almost clichéd line “we’re here for you” or “you know where we are”. In the majority of cases, I know these lines are well-intended. You’re offering your support to someone who is struggling. It’s a nice thing to do. However there is one big flaw in that.
You’re putting the onus on them.
That’s right, you’re making it their responsibility. It’s the get-out-of-jail-free card, the contractual sub-clause that allows you to sit back and relax and wait for them to do the hard part. If they, the sufferer, don’t contact you, then that means they don’t want your help. At least they know it’s there though. Right?
The Onus Problem
What’s the problem? You’re offering them your support, you’re telling them to contact you if they need the help…so isn’t that a good thing?
Do you know what? It’s great, it really is. I’m pleased that you’re there for your friend or family member. That being said, there’s something you need to consider.
Can they talk about it?
For a lot of people going through mental health struggles, opening up and talking about it is one of the hardest things to do. Every time my friend struggles and spirals, the first thing she does is hide because she doesn’t feel she can ask for help. I’m the same: I find it hard to say “I’m struggling, please help me”. It’s just not something that comes easily.
Are they likely to talk about it? Not always, no.
Imagine that you live with your brain trying to tell you that people don’t care. Why should they? You see yourself as worthless so why would anyone else bother with you? Now imagine that you don’t hear from people. It’s rare for you to get messages or phone calls unless a) you message or phone first or b) the person messaging wants something. Is that going to make you feel like they care? That they are there for you? That you can turn to them when you need them? Somehow I don’t think it will.
That’s the trap that a lot of people struggling with depression fall into. They have a small yet persuasive voice in their brain telling them no one cares and they have a phone or social media devoid of messages to support that statement. It becomes far too easy for them to believe that no one cares. That they’re alone.
Why? Because the onus is on them.
Picking up the phone, for me, is one of the hardest things to do. There are only five people I would ever really answer the phone to or make any effort to phone. That’s partly because I’m stuck in the trap I mentioned earlier but also because I tend to have an anxiety attack every single time I go to ring. Combine that with the need to ask for help and I’m more or less shot in the foot before I even get going.
I don’t talk about it.
Which is why I need others to talk to me. I know plenty of other people who are in the same position, who need help but people don’t reach out to them. It’s like we’re too content to just sit back and let people struggle unless they ask for help. Admittedly, keeping in touch with people does take work but even so, it’s an integral and important part of supporting someone.
Something for you to bear in mind – and this is an example I used with both my mum and one of my friends when trying to explain this – is suicide. Suicidal thoughts can creep into people’s depressions and it’s scary when it happens. The thing with suicide, though, is that you’re supposed to watch the ones who don’t talk about it. According to studies and experts, the ones who talk about suicide are less likely to commit to it than the people who hide it and don’t talk about it.
They don’t talk about it.
So what would you do if that happened? What if someone felt so isolated and so unable to talk to others that they killed themselves? With depression, it’s a possibility. Together we can change that though! We can talk to them.
Breaking the Onus
So what can we do? Well for starters we can stop putting the onus on the person suffering. Statements like “but I haven’t heard from you” or “you know where we are if you need us” need to become the minority. Instead, send them a message periodically. Weekly, fortnightly, both work, just try not to leave it longer than fortnightly, especially if you’re not seeing them.
Don’t know what to say? That’s no problem. Something simple like “Hi, how are you keeping” or “Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you” will do. From what people tell me, the majority of us don’t need answers, we just need someone to send a message and listen. That’s all you have to do.
Over To You
I’m passing the buck now. It’s your turn. Do you know someone who suffers with depression? Have you noticed they’re isolating themselves? Could you send them a message to let them know they’re not alone?
It takes 1-2 minutes.
It could save a life.
Please reach out to someone. You have no idea what difference it could make.
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