Responsibility of Friends and Family
The Onus. Those two words carry with them so much importance – an importance that I’ve emphasised. It’s a duty, a responsibility, one that no one really seems to want to take ownership of. It’s also one that we must take ownership of.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve talked about the two parts that I believe are crucial for us to understand regarding the onus:
- We, as friends and family members, shouldn’t put the onus on the person suffering from mental health issues.
- Putting the onus on the sufferer and not keeping in touch can lead to feelings of neglect or feeling like they deserve the isolation.
If you haven’t already read the first two parts of this, I’d recommend that you do so. In short, though: we shouldn’t be putting the onus on those suffering because they aren’t likely to speak out about what they’re going through. The potential effect of this can be highly damaging,as they can start to believe that they aren’t worth the time or effort that it would take to send them a message (which is…5 minutes if you type slowly?)
Now, I’ll be honest: this topic has been highly divisive over the months that these posts have been published, because it’s immediately created an argument. Mental health sufferers have agreed with me, saying that they often feel abandoned and cut off due to people putting the onus on them. Friends and family, however, have said there is only so much that they can do before they feel like their efforts are being wasted. If they are met with what seems to be a brick wall, they will give up.
But, as I’m sure you have already guessed, there is another part to this tale…
…the Responsibility Clause.
The Responsibility Clause
What do I mean by this? Are friends and family responsible for giving up? Do the mental health sufferers need to be responsible for having the onus put on them? Absolutely not! No, the responsibility clause is something different. In my mind, this is what it would be:
The Responsibility Clause places responsibility on both parties. For friends and family, they have the duty of care for their loved ones, which includes keeping in touch while recognising the sufferer might not be able to instigate contact themselves. They should not place the onus solely on the sufferer, using the fact that they have not done something as an excuse to avoid contact. For the sufferer, the responsibility is theirs to be as honest and responsive as they can.
Does that sound reasonable? Perhaps you’ve had similar thoughts as you’ve been reading through my posts about the Onus. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, though, I hope you will agree with me on this part:
We, as mental health sufferers, need to be responsible.
That’s right – I said it! We need to be responsible. Naturally, this would be for our own actions or inactions, as we can’t be responsible for what other people do or don’t do, can we? So we need to be responsible.
So friends and family, we’ve already discussed what ways you can be responsible for yourselves. Don’t put the onus on the mental health sufferer, as they might not be able to reach out; don’t wait for them to instigate conversation. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, it means they’re struggling. So don’t withhold contact just because you haven’t heard from them. It doesn’t always work that way.
For mental health sufferers, though, be it depression, anxiety, bipolar or any other mental illness, we have two responsibilities: to be honest and responsive. What do I mean by these though? Responsive is exactly what it says on the tin: if someone messages us, we should respond. Granted, it might take us a day or two to do so, but we still have that duty to respond. After all, why should people continue to message us if we’re not responsive? I understand, having been there myself, that it can be difficult sometimes to summon the energy or brain power to respond, but that doesn’t lessen our responsibility. If anything, it makes it more important for the days when we are able to message, when we are able to make phone calls.
Secondly, the honesty part…this one is harder. Naturally, it means we have to be honest but about what? Quite simply, our struggles. We have a tendency, don’t we, to say that we’re fine when asked how we are. Now while this is a coping mechanism, albeit not the best, we need to try and be more honest. If we are open with our struggles, friends and family will be able to understand what we’re going through and how to help us, because we can tell them what it is we need. It’s important that we don’t just brush their attempts off, withdrawing deeper into our own shell. That, in itself, can be just as bad as the friend or family member not getting in touch.
A Small Footnote
As with a lot of aspects of mental illness, I believe this approach is subjective to each person. There are those who will have been damaged by the second part of the onus that I’ve mentioned and feel unable to communicate with others. We should still try, but for some it might not happen. In terms of honesty regarding our struggles, that should be done as far as we feel able to or comfortable to, because there will be details we won’t feel comfortable sharing.
At the end of the day, both sides do need to take responsibility and work towards better communication and understanding with each other. Without both sides accepting some of the onus and some of that responsibility, the eradication of stigma and furthering of mental health awareness will not happen.
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