This is a peeve I’ve had for a long time. I can understand the reasoning, but I don’t like the additional implications. Due to the media, folklore, and other cancers of popular culture, the phrase “mental patient” acquired some bad connotations. Some people didn’t want to be labeled with it because they had been wrongly committed back in the days when psychiatrists called anything that moved “schizophrenic”. Others didn’t want to be painted with an ax in their hands.
But the phrase we replaced it with was “mental health consumers”. I am all for mental health — isn’t that the reason why I am on so many medications? — but the notion of me being a “consumer” irritates me. It suggests that I am in Psychiatry Land because I am looking for a high or because I am looking for the latest brain fashion accessory. Out there, there must be a mental health superstore — a “Moods-R-Us” where I can pick and choose from the latest manias, depressions and mixed states, each colored to match my attire1 .
There’s a worse implication here: consumer suggests whim. It suggests that our syndromes are less devastating than other physical conditions. Do we hear talk of diabetes consumers or cancer consumers? “Oh, yes, I would like some Taxol to go with my new uterine tumor.” People would rise in anger and cry out in rebellion.
If we are just consumers, then our illnesses aren’t serious and don’t deserve insurance coverage. That’s the bottom line here. It’s a door to disenfranchise us from decent health care. And no one who suffers from genuine psychiatric conditions should just stand by and allow that to happen.
- I have a friend who showed up to her psychiatrist wearing ultra-bright clothing. The shrink said “Are we feeling a bit manic today?” “No,” my friend said. “We are feeling depressed and the only clothes we have to wear are the ones we bought when we were manic.” [↩]