Terminology Used to Describe People with Mental Health Problems

This covers a variety of terms used to detail people who suffer from mental problems. Should you be interested in knowing these terms, then look at the Wordbank. Defining such terms here is vital because these words may mean differently for different people. Like for example, ‘service users’ means that they are a group which refers to people who need a variety of help. Some of the ‘users’ have comments on this term saying that it may be ill-fitting to call it that.

  • Clients – stresses the professional state of the relationship; used by therapists, social and private care sectors.
  • Consumers – stresses the idea of the service users as the consumers of the products or care services; a term used from the market place.
  • Ex-patients – people who are no longer using health care services; used by psychiatric unit for someone released from the hospital.
  • Experts by/through experience – coined from the recovery movement to get attention for the value of working together with the service users. This is a participatory approach that recognizes the person’s ability to work for his own rehabilitation. The Experts by/through experience is used together with the Experts by profession idea of identifying the recovery methods.
  • Patients – commonly utilized by health care providers; stresses medical focus on the relationship of the service and the person.
  • People with mental health problems – used by a lot of agencies; stresses and recognizes that a lot of people suffer from mental problems.
  • People with experience of mental and emotional distress – broad term which includes a focus on experience than using the idea of ‘problem’ as a tag.
  • People with a mental illness – narrower meaning used by psychiatric and psychological services; stresses on ‘illness’ which recognizes it for treatment.
  • Psychiatric survivors - ‘rights’ term utilized by activists in asserting that a number of psychiatric treatments are abusive. They want reforms which would end the capacity of the psychiatry to detain their patients and to enforce treatment.
  • Service users – commonly used by service providers especially in the public sector; a generic description for people who use the services.
  • Sufferers – used by organizations and agencies to describe the poor living quality of people who have mental problems; used by parents, individuals and carers for people with a specific mental problem.
  • Survivors – used for people who have lived through traumatic experiences; empowering than using ‘sufferer’ which means ‘victim’ for some; also used by mutual assistance and self-help groups; not the same as ‘psychiatric survivor’.
  • Users – abbreviation for service users; also for people who have problems with substance abuse.