Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 17 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Don't call me a Consumer!

Consumer. Who's idea was that? When did patient become a four-letter word? And why is it only a four-letter word for me, a person with depression, but not for my neighbor with cancer? Please do not call me a consumer! When I am in line at Starbucks, I am a consumer. Shopping at Wal-mart I am a consumer. But while conversing with my doctor, I am a patient!

Who came up with this idea that we were not patients, not people with an illness, but consumers? Brilliant. While I stand in front of classrooms enlightening the charges that mental illness is no different than cancer, MS, or any other illness, someone somewhere decided that it would be too stigmatizing(?) to call us patients? People? In an effort to make us less different, we just rocketed ourselves into another plane of difference! How can we say we are the same, but please don’t call us the same? We have a biological, treatable illness, but the word patient is pejorative? Cancer patient, woman with MS, guy with heart disease; no problem, it is okay for them. But we are different. We, those of us with depression, schizophrenia, and eating disorders, have an illness just like they do, but please don’t refer to us in the same way. We are not patients. We are consumers. Huh?

Consumer? Talk about stigmatizing!! I have a biological brain disease! When I am hospitalized, I am not there to choose between a green gown or a blue gown. I am there because my symptoms have gotten worse, and I need specialized medical care to manage my illness. This is true whether I have appendicitis, scoliosis, diabetes, or depression! All are illnesses that may lead to death if we do not allow ourselves to be treated, to be patients.

I am a person with a mental illness. While visiting my psychiatrist, I am her patient. While visiting my psychologist, I am her patient. While getting my blood drawn, having an MRI or getting an EKG, I am a patient. Regardless of my diagnosis, when getting treatment, I am a patient. Why, if the diagnosis is depression, undergoing the same tests and treatment, must I be a consumer?

We can’t have it both ways. If our premise and platform is that we have biological, treatable illnesses, just like everybody else, how can we define “patient” as a stigmatizing word? We can’t have it both ways. We can’t fight for research dollars. We can’t educate the school children. We can’t demand equal insurance coverage. We can’t reduce stigma. We can’t align ourselves with other biological, treatable illnesses if we continue to separate ourselves by denying our status as patients. We can't have it both ways.

Choosing between Ajax and Comet? Consumer.
Choosing between Prozac and Paxil? Patient.

1 comment:

Enlightening the Darkness said...

I think the idea behind the word "consumer" is to empower the person seeking mental health services.

Over a short amount of time, the term for people like us (I have depression and OCD) has gone from "patient" to "client" to "consumer."

I think "patient" was changed to "client" due to the perceived paternalistic nature of the term "patient" going back to Freud. The idea that the therapist knew more about a person's mental illness than the person herself/himself.

Now the idea is that the person knows the best way to help herself/himself, the therapist's role is merely to be a guide, not a teacher.

"Consumer" might also be from the increased focus on medication and the idea of taking a more active role in treatment. Before, the idea was that someone with mental illness needed help in seeking services, that someone had to do it for them. Now we can demand treatment, insurance coverage for that treatment, and more recognition of the seriousness of mental illness.

Overall though, I prefer the term "person with mental illness" since that is more akin to "person with diabetes." Even with the popular idea that people with diabetes are somewhat responsible for their illness (especially if they're overweight and inactive), they're still not labeled the same way people with mental illnesses are.