Welcome to the blog for Free Your Mind mental health anti-stigma campaign

This is the blog for the Free Your Mind campaign which aims to battle stigma towards mental illness through the use of music, art, film, and culture.
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Monday, 18 April 2011

Using the term 'Service User'

"Service User" is a generic term used by many mental health service providers, particularly within the public sector, as a description of the people who use mental health services. But, amongst both the people using the services and mental health professionals alike, there are many who find this term too ambiguous and feel it carries its own negative implications or connotations.

Personally, I am indifferent to the term "Service User", but I was interested to know where issues with this terminology come from; what the alternative terms are; and what stigma, if any, is attached to this term.

Some of the issues I've heard stated with the term "Service User" include its ambiguity - some people feel it says nothing of the problems and issues faced by those with mental illnesses, and many whom are classed as "Service Users" feel this is inaccurate if they do not in fact use any mental health services. Other issues with the term include its implications that a person has a dependency on a service, as well as negative connotations of the word "user" - for example, this term could describe someone manipulating others, or a person who uses illicit substances.

However, at the same time; "Service User" is a generic term of a business-like nature, it may not be an entirely pleasant phrase, but, when used in the correct context, it is accurate terminology for describing a person who receives support from services.

There is alternative terminology to the term "Service User", which includes: "Client", "Patient" and "Survivors". But there is disagreement on which terms are appropriate.

The Mental Health Foundation defined the terms used to refer to those with a mental illness, such as "Service User", "Patient", "Client", etc., in regards to their literal meanings and why they are used by mental health services and professionals.

"Service Users" -- This is a 'popular term with service providers... used as a generic description of the people who use mental health services.'

"Clients" -- 'Emphasises the professional nature of the relationship with the mental health professional.'

"Patients" -- This is a widely used term which, according to the Mental Health Foundation, 'stresses the medical focus of the relationship between the person and the service.'

"Survivors" -- 'A term used to describe people experiencing/living through mental health problems and/or the consequences of a life event - such as sexual abuse... It is regarded as more empowering than the more passive "sufferer" with its connotations of "victim".'

The terminology "Survivor" is not to be confused with "Psychiatric Survivor"

"Psychiatric Survivors" -- According to the Mental Health Foundation, "Psychiatric Survivor" is 'A 'rights' based term used by mental health/survivor activists who assert that some forms of psychiatric treatment can e considered abusive. They campaign for reforms to end the powers of psychiatry to compulsorily detain people and enforce treatment against their will.'

The Psychiatrist (Formerly The Psychiatrist Bulletin) carried out a survey amongst mental health professionals to determine which terms they felt receivers of mental health services should be known as (from their professional viewpoint as someone working for these services). "Patient" was found to be the preferred term by psychiatrists and nurses. The term "Client" was found to be an equally preferable term as "Patient", in alternative to "Service User", by social workers and occupational therapists. "Service User" was found by the survey to be the most disliked terminology overall.

It appears to me that issue with the term "Service User" is down to its connotations and implications, rather than it actually being a derogatory term. Most of the terminology used to describe a person receiving support from a mental health service seem to be evidence-based - which, in my opinion, is how they should be.

"Service User" is a generic term widely used to describe people who receive support from mental health services, but, it can still carry negative implications and connotations; even though the terminology itself is not derogatory.

There are many terms and it is impossible to please everyone, but I think the important thing to remember is the term "Service User" does not describe an individual - in regards to their personality and personal characteristics - but refers to an "activity" in which they partake as part of their everyday lives.

1 comment:

  1. The term "service user" does presuppose that there is a service to use. That may not be the case. We may have unmet needs. We may also have the capability to deal with some of our problems ourselves without help from the NHS, etc. Personally I hate thet term and I don't use it. I usually say "people with mental health problems" if I want to use the longer term and if I want to shorten it I simply use the word "people".