The Onus – We’re Here For You

Connectivity Campaign

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.

Sometimes you just need someone to tell you you're not as terrible as you think you are.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!

The Onus

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?

Sadly, wrong.

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

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.

Mental Block

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.

My Struggle

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.

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!


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.

For further information, check out the Onus pt 2 – The Damaging Effect.

Why not subscribe?

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Author: Alex Davies

Alex Davies is the creator and writer for Pushing Back the Shadows. Find out more about his journey here and connect with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

2 thoughts on “The Onus – We’re Here For You”

  1. In my experience in supporting people with depression, talking about things is often a one way street, there’s no reciprocation even with stuff such as asking how I am, this makes it hard to continue a conversation, it’s not a real friendship if it doesn’t work as a two way street and can often leave the supporter feeling used and unimportant and unable to talk further.

    How would you suggest people with depression maintain and keep healthy relationships with others around them? Particularly those supporting them?

    1. You make a very important point. Maintaining that communication is hard without that two-way conversation. As someone with experience of both depression and supporting someone with depression, I’d say the best way to get them to talk is to persevere. As you keep in contact with them, they will eventually open up and be more willing to talk about how they’re feeling but they will also start to remember to make it a two-way street. There’s also nothing wrong with occasionally pointing out that they need to be asking you how you are as well, as sometimes it can be easy to forget that we’re not doing that. I believe the most important thing for supporting people, however, is to remember to be a bit selfish on occasion. In the majority of cases, they will have other people they can turn to if they need that support, so don’t be afraid to say you’re unable to at that point. Make sure you remember to take time for yourself and do some of the things that you enjoy, that renew your energy. That way you’ll avoid being burned out, feeling used and unimportant.

      For someone with depression to maintain a healthy relationship with others around them, it’s important to remember to give a little as well as receive. The more that happens, the easier it becomes. It’s also very important to remember that you’re only human, you will get it wrong from time to time but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s part of being ill as well, forgetting to ask after others. Start with one friend that you can ask how they are and practice that two-way communication and build it up gradually. It’s difficult but slowly is better than rushing it. One thing to do is to tell the person supporting them how much you value their support. That will encourage them as well and it’s something small that you can do to assist them as they help you.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.