Services and making use of them…

The government provides a variety of services in return for our taxes. There are words to describe us when we make use of these: when we walk along a pavement we are ‘pedestrians’, when we drive (chance would be a fine thing) we are ‘motorists’ (a sweetly archaic term for the chaos that ensues), when we put out our bins we are ‘householders’ or ‘tenants’. Energy providers have ‘consumers’. Museums have ‘visitors’. GPs have ‘patients’. Teachers have ‘students’. Businesses have ‘customers’ and ‘clients’. So why on earth do we have the vague, covert term ‘Service Users’ for people having help with their mental health? People with Bipolar, Schizophrenia ‘etc’ are labelled Service Users – as are people addicted to evil substances.
When I was at school (being a ‘pupil’) the word ‘user’ was a derogatory term for someone who became a false friend or girlfriend to someone they didn’t really like. ‘Use’ and ‘used up’ are not particularly positive words.
Language evolves, sometimes rapidly and sometimes playing catch-up. ‘Service User’ was presumably promoted as a more dignified term than ‘mental patient’. ‘Loony bin’ became ‘Mental hospital’ which is gradually becoming ‘Psychiatric hospital’. It’s time for ‘Service User’ to evolve, to go the same way as ‘mental patient’. It is time for a more robust, straightforward word. Actually, there is one: it’s ‘patient’. People with illnesses are patients.
Like many people, I am mercurial. During the course of a day, I can be a ‘wife and mother’ (part of a ‘hard-working family’), a ‘writer’, a ‘teacher’, a ‘householder’ and so on … and if I have an appointment with a doctor of any type then I am also a ‘patient’. I am not a ‘Service User’; I am a person supported by health professionals. Aren’t we all?

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