Many people are now getting away from using the term “Mental health consumer” to talk about a person in recovery from a mental health diagnosis.
I learned in my certified peer specialist training that my recovery was not from the illness, it was from the diagnosis. Recovery from the illness only includes eliminating symptoms. Recovery from the diagnosis means rebuilding from the judgements that you and people around you might have made about your limtations and abilities. For me, it was learning that I can dream again, which is my my recovery story is called, “Taking back the dreams.”
I stopped saying mental health consumer a long time ago. I don’t like “consumer” at all. I realized the weakness of the term when my art was reviewed byt eh 60 words per minute art critic, Lori Waxman. This is a performance art form and an art review at the same time. I performed a spoken word poem for her and talked with her for a few minutes and showed her my digital poems collages. This is when I started learning that I am more of a performance artist than a visual artist, because she said hearing the poem is shere she felt the power. She asked me, “What is a mental health consumer?”
I had to explain, “Well, everyone buys stuff, so saying mental health consumer only has meaning to other mental health advocates. It’s a compromise term that came from trying to satisfy people on diferent places in the advocacy setting. Since it’s a compromise, no one really likes it.” Plus, of course, recovery is not a passive purchasing or receiving process. I also never use NAMI’s indicated alternative, “People with mental illness,” because I believe emotional suffering comes from events in our lives, not an “illness” in our brains.
What we can call people instead of mental health consumers:
Instead, I use, “people in recovery,” “People with mental health labels,” “people with a psychiatric diagnosis.” “people receiving services.” “peer”, or “psychiatric survivors.” When I am angry and preaching to the choir, I’ll say, ”victims of psychiatric oppression,” “people stuck in the mental health system,” or “psychiatrized people.” I usually save the last few terms for audiences I don’t have to worry about scaring off.
I recently heard from Eric Harkness, my NAMI Kansas friends, that NAMI is changing their “Consumer Council” to something like a “Peer Council” or “Recovery Council.” I know many people in the recovery movement like to bash NAMI, but if we beleive in our own ability to change and recovery, we have to believe in an agency’s ability to learn as well. My NAMI Missouri friend Edward Duff said the national consumer council has been hip to getting off meds for a long time, even before the rest of us started being more vocal about it. Edward’s favorite term is “experiencer” or people with lived experience.
Lately I thought maybe we should be called ”truama travelers” since 90% of people with diagnoses have lived through trauma?
Or instead of consumer, I mostly like to say, “my friends,” “my brothers and sisters in recovery”, “my fellow advocates”, or “people like me.” “We” might be the powerful word of all in mental health when used by people who do share something. I like to say my years of learning how to recover is better than a professional’s years of learning how I might have been sick.
See this essay by David Oaks: http://corinnawest.com/david-oaks-lets-stop-saying-mental-illness/