Definition of service user (based on Wallcraft 2003)

A service user is someone who is receiving or using (or has received or used) primary or secondary mental health care services.

The term ‘service user’ or ‘user’ is often seen as referring to those who use mental health services and are more concerned with service reform and improvement than with radical challenge.

However, some people strongly dislike being called ‘users’ as it sounds like ‘drug user’ or someone who uses other people. Others feel they did not choose to use services.

Definition of service user: Taken from Shaping Our Lives

Shaping Our Lives National User Network sees ‘service user’ as an active and positive term, which means more than one thing. It is important that ‘service user’ should always be based on self-identification. But here are some of the things we think it means.

  • It means that we are in an unequal and oppressive relationship with the state and society.
  • It is about entitlement to receive welfare services. This includes the past when we might have received them and the present. Some people still need to receive services but are no longer entitled to for many different reasons.
  • It may mean having to use services for a long time which separate us from other people and which make people think we are inferior and that there is something wrong with us.
  • Being a service user means that we can identify and recognise that we share a lot of experiences with a wide range of other people who use services. This might include, for example, young people with experience of being looked after in care, people with learning difficulties, mental health service users, older people, physically and/or sensory impaired people, people using palliative care services and people with drug and alcohol problems.

This last point about recognising our shared experiences of using services, whoever we are, makes us powerful and gives us a strong voice to improve the services we are given and to give us more control and say over what kind of services we want.

What people sometimes mean by the term ‘service user’.

The term ‘service user’ can be used to restrict your identity as if all you are is a passive recipient of health and welfare services. That is to say that a service user can be seen to be someone who has things ‘done to them’ or who quietly accepts and receives a service. This makes it seem that the most important thing about you is that you use or have used services. It ignores all the other things you do and which make up who you are as a person. This is not what Shaping Our Lives National User Network means when we talk of ‘service users’.