Let’s look at the terminology

Some of the terms defining the role of the person who has had experience in the mental health/illness system are:

Mental patient

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.

Psychiatric inmate

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.

Psychiatric prisoner

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.

Psychiatric survivor

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.

In Recovery

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.

Mad Folk

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.

9 Responses

  1. Excellent post! It is quite frustrating to me, as an “ex-patient”, or whatever, that once you have been labelled “mentally ill” that label stays with you for LIFE! It affects how people treat you, it affects your medical care. It afffects your ability to find a job. Your entire life is impacted in a profound and disturbing way. Thank you for this post. I have been thinking about this for years. You said it best!

    • Thanks, Julie. As one who has also been there, done that, I appreciate your comments immensely.

      People often play many roles in life. This multiplicity of roles allows one to slide into and out of roles with relative ease. The role of “mental patient”, or “mental health consumer”, should not be a permanent one. When it is, something is wrong with the script, the supporting cast, and the whole company.

      • You are absolutely correct. However, if you have ever been treated with psychotropic medications, or have been hospitalized in a “Psych” unit, that information remains on your medical record for life. I was treated for severe PTSD over a period of years. Psychiatrists told me I would never recover, that I should simply accept my condition and continue the meds for life. Through my own “force of will”, as it were…and with the help of a great therapist (my horse) I did recover. I no longer take any medication, or have any serious mental health issues at all. I have been quite well, indeed for more than 8 years. However, I train thoroughbreds, which means an occasional injury that lands me in the ER at the University of Michigan. My “psychiatric” history is the first thing these ER docs see. One instance particularly stands out…I was bringing a horse in for the farrier, and another horse charged through the gate, knocking me head over heels. I landed on my head and was unconscious. The farrier called 911, the barn’s owner was present, as were several other horse owners. The ambulance arrived, placed me on a backboard with a neck brace, and raced me to the ER. Upon arrival, I was awake and lucid. The first thing the doc said to me was:” Are you certain you were run over by a horse?…or was this self-inflicted?” I replied: “Are you sure you’re licensed to practice medicine?” He said:”Were there any witnesses?” As it turned out, I had a closed head injury that required months of rehab. I, and many former “patients” have many of these stories. This leads to illnesses being over-looked, and not treated in a timely manner. It is dangerous. People do recovery from temporary setbacks. I see it all the time. Although my “illness” was profound, and disabling, I am living proof of this. Insurers discriminate, employers discriminate…but, in my opinion the worst offenders are Physicians…particularly Psychiatrists, who lead people to believe there is no hope for recovery.

  2. I’ve heard about a horse serving as a senator, but a horse as a therapist, that’s a new one for me. When I think about it, a horse would probably do as good as some of the people whe work in therapy now, if not a good sight better.

    • Sunny, my horse, is a far better, and more empathetic listener than any therapist with whom I have worked…and she never interrupts me with comments like..oh…”How does that make you feel?” My Malamute does a great job, as well, but does interrupt, occasionally with a howl of agreement…at least I THINK she’s agreeing…

    • Caligula, FTW!

      • Incitus was the horse’s name, and a fine specimen he was by all accounts.

        Caligula and Incitus: History of Horses


        caligula’s horse

        Caligula, the Roman emperor, is rumored to have been mad. Of course, the histories he is included in were written many years after the fact, by people who weren’t actually there, and by people who may have had an axe to grind as well, politically speaking.

    • Julie, I agree with what you say about psychiatrists. Very true. Psychiatrists are some of the most prejudiced people in the world. I think it is this prejudice that makes them cast such dreadful prognoses on people. On mental health units psychiatrists spend less time with the patients than the rest of the mental health staff, and they’re supposed to know so much. This is an indication of just how little they actually care rather than how much. The psychiatrist cares about the psychiatrist, and he gets well paid for doing so. Better paid, that is, than the rest of the staff. I think there must be a better way to earn one’s living than the way of preaching disease where disease doesn’t exist. I don’t want to bash all psychiatrists. There have been good ones: Daniel Fisher, Peter Breggin, Thomas Szasz, Loren Mosher, Peter Weir Perry, RD Laing, etc.. It’s just the good one is the exception to the rule, and on the whole, they’re a rather sorry lot.

  3. Yes, unfortunately, Psychiatrists are a sorry lot. In Michigan, it is required that the attending physician (Psychiatrist) visit each patient every day. That seldom occurs. Ususally, it’s more of a head stuck through the door..I have known MANY psychiatrists in my lifetime. Glen O. Gabbard, formerly of the Menninger clinic was my therapist for two years…an amazing, insightful, kind and caring man…brilliant, actually. The rest of the Psychiatrists I’ve known personally were simply Psychopharmacologists…doling out drugs almost randomly…without any knowledge of the potential dangerous side effects, or long term effects of these drugs.

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