Does my ‘service user’ hat fit?

I’ve just caught myself arguing with myself about whether or not I like being called a ‘service user’. This is daft because a) nobody has called me a service user and b) arguing with yourself is daft in its own right.

So what’s this about being called a service user then? Why start an imaginary argument over being called something that I haven’t been called? Well, it occurred to me yesterday that, as someone who has had counselling for depression, I could be categorised as a service user – a phrase I’ve heard a lot in social care and health services and have always found slightly odd.

It feels alien to me because I would never define myself as a service user, any more than I would define myself as a fruit-eater, a Nutella consumer or a bed owner. I am me, Paul Brook. I can be defined as many things but am quite happy to be defined as none. In fact, I’ll choose how I define myself, thank you very much.

However, I found myself arguing (with myself), while I may not relate to this label, it is at least accurate and inoffensive. I have used a service, so if someone doing some research or evaluation needs to talk about me as someone who’s used a service, that’s OK by me. It’s better than being called a ‘nutter’.

I’m equally happy to be called a ‘patient’. There’s nothing derogatory, insensitive or insulting about that. I was ill, I went to get treatment, I had the treatment, and – I hope – I am on the way to getting better.

To confuse matters further, I could also be called either a ‘mental health service user’ or a ‘mental health patient’. The latter is more likely to end up in a tabloid newspaper in some kind of scare-mongering way, and I don’t like it anyway, tabloid headlines or not. A patient is a patient. Why differentiate by what sort of patient someone is? As for ‘mental health service user’, well, it’s a bit of a mouthful, but it is at least an accurate description. I have, in essence, used a mental health service, although I would again argue that adding ‘mental’ is unnecessary. Mental health is part of general health and doesn’t need separating.

I wouldn’t be too keen on being called a ‘user’ either. Yes, it’s quicker to say and write, but isn’t a user someone who takes things from people and offers nothing in return? I associate it with someone on a soap opera crying “She’s just used me!” or “He’s such a user!” after the breakdown of a troubled relationship. OK, I’m not sure my counsellor feels enriched by the glorious experience of working with me, but it’s not like I’ve waltzed in, thoughtlessly used something up, callously worn it out and strolled nonchalantly away.

“You’re getting a bit carried away there, Paul,” I am now telling myself. “Nobody meant you were that kind of user. In fact, nobody actually said any of this.”

I’ll carry on for just a moment longer, though, because I am wondering what I can be categorised as now that my counselling has finished. Am I an ‘ex service user’? A ‘former service user’? A person who ‘did use a service but doesn’t now’? Do I just cease to exist? Do I no longer need categorisation? How liberating and yet how tragic!

So, my imaginary argument is drawing to a close and I have failed to convince myself either way. One part of me says ‘Yes, go ahead and call me a service user if it helps you’. The other says ‘I’d rather you didn’t label me anything, thanks all the same’.

Seeing as nobody did call me any of the above, this is all a bit whimsical and I can be unusually laid back about it, but it does go to show that there is no single, exclusive way to define anybody. Labelling someone can be problematic and misleading – but an accurate way of describing someone is better than an inaccurate or insulting one.

Let’s call this argument a draw.

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3 Comments on “Does my ‘service user’ hat fit?”

  1. On The Way says:

    Having just discovered your blog and spent a good hour or so reading through past posts, thought I would stop by and let you know how brilliant it is!
    You eloquently explain the tough stuff and the injection of humour every now and then is brilliant.
    So thank you!
    As someone in a bit of a fight with darkness at the moment, being able to read some of your journey has been helpful.
    Will look forward to reading more, Take care.

  2. [...] Who wants to be called a service user? In the latest post on his Dippyman blog, Paul Brook debates terminology – and admits he’s not sure how he feels about being referred to as a service user or [...]


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