I’m not, on the whole, the type of person who grumbles about ‘political correctness gone mad’.
But I really, really hate the way mental health services insist on referring to patients like me as ‘service users’ or, worse still, ‘clients’.
I know these terms are supposed to be empowering. The theory is that the word ‘patient’ implies that we’re a) unwell and b) passive, while referring to us as ‘clients’ or ‘service users’ suggests that we’re in the driving seat as far as our treatment is concerned.
But anyone who’s been through the mental health system knows that simply isn’t the case.
When you’re under mental health services’ care, opportunities to have a say in your treatment are few and far between.
Sure, we may be asked our opinions as a box-ticking exercise, but realistically, the ‘services’ we receive are dictated by budgets and resources.
I’m a client when I go to the hairdresser’s, or book an oven cleaning. I’m a service user when I go to the library or pay my council tax.
Let’s face it, mental health treatment is pretty shoddy in the UK.
If I was involved in any other service that was underperforming so spectacularly, I’d be kicking up a fuss and demanding my money back.
So to call me a ‘service user’ or ‘client’ is a complete misnomer, which implies that I have options and valued opinions, whereas the reality is I’ve no choice but to accept whatever scant provision they deem suitable.
Ironically, I feel that calling mental health patients ‘clients’ or ‘service users’ actually contributes to the stigma around mental illness, rather than reducing it.
It all seems a bit hush-hush, as if being a mental health patient is so taboo that we have to disguise it as something less threatening.
The implication is that patient = bad, but service user = good.
Would we apply the same principles to physical health problems? Would we refer to people as ‘diabetes clients’ or ‘cancer service users?’ I think not.
Which leads me onto my final point – and that’s the fact that mental illness is an illness.
An illness that should be treated with the same respect and seriousness as physical conditions.
I want to be referred to as a mental health patient because that term recognises that I’m unwell. It communicates clearly that a part of my body is sick and in need of treatment.
When you call me a service user, it invalidates my experience as a person with a serious, potentially life-threatening illness.
I realise different people have different viewpoints, and no doubt some feel that being a service user or client is more palatable than being a patient.
But statistics suggest I’m not alone: 77% of mental health patients prefer to be referred to as such.
So do me a favour, and ditch the euphemisms, please.
I’m not ashamed to be a mental health patient, and no one else needs to brush it under the carpet on my behalf.