Some of the terms defining the role of the person who has had experience in the mental health/illness system are:
I don’t like the term mental patient. Cage one has a cage two. This is the cage of words. The patience of saints might never be rewarded. This is a role without an end unless you end it. Desperation won’t end it. Desperation is often its source and substance.
Mental health consumer
Mental health consumer seems the refuge of every last treatment junkie in the world. I’m not any fonder of the term mental health consumer than I am of the term mental patient. The presumption is that said person has an illness. This illness is a matter of emotional and mental distress. If the truth be told, perhaps distress isn’t an illness, but we don’t have the time or inclination to cover that one at length. People who think themselves well don’t buy mental health services. They don’t need to do so. More and more mental health consumers are getting jobs as mental health workers. Getting a job in mental health services is no way to wean oneself of the mental health/illness system. In fact, advancing to a job in mental health services might be seen as a further indication of a person’s addiction problem.
Note: Prisons have trustees, mental health services have peer support specialists, and governments have traitors and double agents. One has to wonder about prisoners who become guards. Bribery and corruption are rife in the mental health/illness system, and since human rights are so slack there, sell outs aren’t hard to find. Co-optation happens.
Mental Health Service User
Service user is a term more favored for mental health consumer in many parts of the world outside of the continental United States. It has its points. Survival, after all, is survival. User is perhaps more honest in that many of the people consuming psychiatric services don’t have a steady income, and so the money they use to consume those services comes from tax payers. User invites corruption in the same way that consumer does.
This term used to be more frequently used than it is today. The reason for the endangered nature of this expression I attribute to the popularity of mental health consumer. A mental health consumer is an addict, and anybody with any experience in substance abuse knows how difficult, some would say impossible, addictions can be to overcome.
When people are not at liberty to leave a facility or a unit, those people are prisoners. When people are held in facilities against their will and wishes, those facilities are prisons. Calling a hospital a prison does not make a prison a hospital. Toxic substances, restraining devices and electroshock machines are torture instruments. Such devices don’t serve any medical purpose unless it is to supply medical hospitals with maimed and wounded psychiatric prisoners and ex-prisoners.
A psychiatric prisoner or ex-prisoner who has survived imprisonment, physical assault, toxic substances, restraining devices, solitary confinement, electroshock torture, etc., mistreatment, in other words, masquerading as medical treatment, alone or in combination. A psychiatric survivor is a person who has had his or her human rights violated by the mental health/illness system.
Former mental patient or ex-patient
Recovery from a severe mental illness is often more a matter of recovering from an oppressive mental health/illness system than it is anything else. People who consume mental health services are said to have not fully recovered from their “illnesses”. Many of these people have serious mental health service consumption addictions or habits. People who work in mental health services are the pushers that keep these treatment junkies supplied. A former mental patient or an ex-patient, strictly speaking, is a person who has left the mental health/illness system entirely. A person who was in the mental health/illness system, but who has not left that system, is a person who cannot be said to have fully recovered his or her mental health.
The term “in recovery” has become a euphemism for mental health treatment consumption. There is no end to this recovery unless a person gets out of recovery (i.e ceases to consume mental health treatment). Partial recovery is not complete recovery. There is more involved in this recovery process than the recovery of one’s mental and emotional stability alone. Institutionalization disrupts lives. There is also economic, situational, and social recovery to consider. Recovery that is not recovery is why we have a mental health ghetto.
A gifted few might actually be a gifted few despite the lack of regard and understanding they have received on the part of the general run of humanity. Given the rapid advance of medicalization, madness is no longer the stigmatizing insult that it once might have been. No, mad describes professional athletes and entertainers of an exceptional calibre in this, our more enlightened, day and age. That dishonor now belongs to the term “mental illness”. If you’ve got a special talent, perhaps that talent is a madness, in which case, I should be very careful in whose presence you choose to reveal it. You don’t, after all, want just any old John or Jane who comes along handed the power to nip your madness in the bud.