Mental Health ‘Clients’

There’s been a change in mental health over the last few years (I honestly don’t know how long it’s been going on) to call the users of mental health services ‘clients’ instead of ‘patients’ (or my preferred term, ‘inmates of the wall-less madhouse’). And I want to say, this is crap.

Being a ‘client’ suggests that you have choices. That you have some power. That you can take your business elsewhere if you’re unhappy with the service. And that’s simply not true of mental health services. Your options are to take whatever the system throws at you with as much grace as you can muster, or be dropped. Private mental health care is WAY beyond the means of the vast majority of the mentally ill. So the choices are simply not there. There are cute little brochures to inform you of your rights, but god help you if you try to exercise any of them, because if you don’t play the game, you don’t get care.

Being a ‘client’ rather than a ‘patient’ suggests that you don’t have a real illness that needs treatment. It suggests that you are not on the same level as people with physical illnesses, that you are different in some way.

Being called a ‘client’ to ‘reduce stigma’ is rubbish. By moving outpatient mental health care off hospital campuses and giving the users of the services a special title, you are emphasising the idea that the mentally ill are different from the physically ill. That emphasis on being different sends me a message – that what I am is different and in some way shameful.

There’s one other group of people labelled ‘clients’ – beneficiaries. And that label is just as misleading. It reinforces the idea that being called a ‘client’ in a non-business setting is all about powerlessness and shame, about being undesirable in many ways. It underlines that the position you are in is one that society frowns upon.

I want mental illness to be treated the same way as physical illness. I don’t want euphemisms, particularly not meaningless ones or misleading ones. I want some honestly about what we are.


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