Patient, client, consumer, or service user? An empirical investigation into the impact of labels on stigmatizing attitudes [2020]

Objective: Currently there is no universally agreed upon language for those seeking psychiatric treatment, and labels commonly include patient, client, consumer, and service user. Although there is some research regarding preferences for label (Dickens & Picchioni, 2012), little is known about how people perceive an individual differently based on the label used. The current study examined whether specific labels were associated with more stigmatizing attitudes. Method: Participants recruited through MTurk (N = 526) were randomized to read a vignette of a man named Harry, described as a patient, client, consumer, or service user with mental illness. After correctly recalling the label from the vignette, participants were assessed for stigmatizing attitudes toward Harry. Results: ANOVAs indicated a no main effects of label on stigmatizing attitudes. A number of variables (e.g., overall stigma, dangerousness, segregation, and distance) revealed a significant interaction between label and prior mental health treatment: For those who have sought prior mental health treatment, the term client may be more stigmatizing than other labels. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: The current study did not find general differences in stigmatizing attitudes associated with mental health treatment label. Although preliminary, these findings suggest treatment labels may not significantly impact stigmatizing attitudes.

Fischer, Melanie W. Johnson-Kwochka, Annalee V. Firmin, Ruth L. Sheehan, Lindsay Corrigan, Patrick W. Salyers, Michelle P.
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 43(3), 2020