Objectives: The aim of this study was to determine the views of both individuals attending the mental health services (attendees) and mental health professionals in relation to how attendees and staff should be addressed, how attendees should be described, and how staff should be attired.
Methods: We surveyed 132 attendees of the West Galway Mental Health Services and 97 mental health professionals in relation to how they prefer to be addressed (first name/ title and surname/ no preference) the description of attendees (patient / client / service user / no preference) and the attire of mental health staff (casual / smart / no preference). We also ascertained how mental health professionals believed attendees would view these issues.
Results: Attendees preferred to be described as patients rather than clients or service users by all mental health professionals, with 46-54% of attendees preferring this term “patient” compared to 14-17% preferring the term “client”, 11-13% preferring the term “service user” and 20-25% having no preference (p < 0.001). They preferred to address doctors by their title and surname (61%) but other mental health professionals by their first names (60-69%) (p < 0.001). Attendees had a strong preference for being addressed by their first names by all the mental health professionals (86-91%) (p < 0.001). Doctors preferred to be attired formally (88%), compared to nurses (50%) or other mental health professionals (42%) (p = 0.002). Attendees had no preference in relation to the attire of doctors but preferred other mental health professionals to be attired informally.
Conclusions: The study demonstrates that despite the increased use of several non-medical terms to describe attendees of mental health services; the preferred term of attendees of the psychiatric services in both in-patient and out-patient settings remains ‘patient’. However, this is not universally the case, and the ascertainment of the preference of the attendee at the first encounter with the health professional should be ascertained. We also demonstrated that attendees preferences in relation to both “dress and address” of doctors is significantly different to their preference for nurses or other allied mental health professionals; which may reflect a wish for a less familiar and more formal interaction with doctors.