What ARE We??

A Rose Still Smells as Sweet

This is an old rant of mine.

Once upon a time, I worked in the mental health services as first a mental health worker, and later as a counselor. I spent 10 years in this field.

When I first started out, we called the people we were helping “patients”. A few years later, we were told to now call them “clients”. Yet, again, a few years later, we were told that these people were “consumers”.

We were told this was all in an effort to remove the stigma from having a mental illness.

Yet, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc are still called illnesses. They are diagnosed, and treated with many medical interventions like medicine. Sounds like they are patients to me.

I didn’t even mind “client”. It implies a contractual relationship, whereby someone goes to a professional to receive services to solve a problem. It has a certain feeling of positive action on the part of the person seeking help.

But, “consumer”? It seems (to me) to imply a “consuming of resources”, without bringing anything to the table. When in fact no medical intervention will be completely successful without the “patient” actively participating in their treatment plan.

My other argument has to do with the effort to remove a stigma that is attached to mental illness. The stigma is not attached to the name “patient”, or “client”; it attached to the illness. No matter how many times they change the name, it does not change the nature of the illness. Until we address this issue head on instead of cloaking it in fancy name changes every few years, the stigma will remain.

These people suffer enough. Dealing with mental illness is a lifelong process, often with painful relapses. Just the struggle to find the right medications can be an ordeal. I think that people who are actively dealing with their illnesses deserve to be recognized for their heroic efforts.

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3 Responses to “What ARE We??”

  1. Debbi Says:

    This is a topic we have had over the past few months too. Personally I use the term client others use service user. Again personally I do not like using the term patient because I am neither a nurse or a doctor and as my “clients” are in the community it just doesn’t feel right. The question is has anyone bothered asking the “client/consumer” etc what they think is an exceptable term?

    I also think, to add to the problem, that the word “Mental” is the most stigmatising word of all. Growing up, children would shout the word mental to be rude and offensive to everyone and anyone suggesting they were mad. My own daughter has thrown that one at me before too. The problem is though, what word do we use?

    At the end of the day I believe stigma will be a massive problem surrounding mental health until the populas have a better understanding of mental ill health. For instance, in a recent report for Shift called Attitudes to Mental Illness 2007, 56% of people asked believe that “someone who is mentally ill has to be kept in a psychiatric or mental hospital” and 63% describe “people who are mentally ill as suffering from schizophrenia”. The whole report can be found on the Mind website for those of you interested. I personally know people who did not realise that depression and anxiety are mental health illnesses.

    Anyway, in short there can be long discussions on this topic and it is one that will probably rumble on for years to come. If you are a service user/client/consumer/patient we would love to hear your point of view on this topic. You may have a term you prefer or it could be that the whole issue really does not bother you. Let us know
    Take care all

  2. fireshadow48 Says:

    “Patient” may be an appropriate term as people here in Texas need to have a lot of patience to deal with our mental health system! Note: “patient” was often used for someone under treatment for any health issue, regardless of who was providing the various aspects of treatment (like physical therapists, counselors, etc). Over here, a counselor may provide life skills training, etc; but that and other services were under the auspices of a doctor, who signed off on the master treatment plan. The person receiving “services” is still under treatment for an illness and therefore could be called a “patient”.

    Do we call someone with a broken leg a “consumer”, or a “client”, or a “patient”? If we want to instill in the minds of people that mental illness is a medical issue, should we not call them the same term as people with other medical issues?

    Another thing about “consumer”, it commercializes the mental health system. “Consumers” are people who buy things. Personally, I liked customer better than consumer for this.

    And yes, educating the public as to what mental illnesses are will go a long way to helping remove the stigma. Then it probably won’t really matter much what term we settle on.

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