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 […]

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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 OK 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.

  • Work with your care provider to stay healthy. Protect yourself. Vaccines are your best protection against being sick.
  • Wash your hands! Hands that look can still have icky germs!

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