What do we mean by "consumer perspective"?
All the work that we do at Our Consumer Place is grounded in consumer perspective. This concept is still evolving, but we believe it is a powerful antidote to the "othering" that many of us with lived experience of "mental illness" have experienced: consumer perspective is about seeing the world through our eyes!
It is also about recognising that the lived experience of "mental illness" provides a crucial source of insight that is of value and must be respected. We here at Our Consumer Place believe that we are part of an important cultural shift, towards valuing and respecting the lived experience of "mental illness."
We wrote about consumer perspective in our booklet So, you've got a "Mental Illness"? ... What now? which was published in 2010. Here's what we said about it there:
What is 'consumer perspective'?
The lens through which we see the world
Consumer perspective is a way of looking at life through eyes that have been categorised as 'mad' or distressed enough to require intervention from a mental health professional.
Such a perspective is acquired as a result of receiving, or being unable to receive when you wish to, services in the mental health system. It is based on a belief that as individual consumers we are 'the experts' about our own life and carry the wisdom to best articulate our own needs if we are accorded the time, space and means to do so.
Sometimes consumer perspective is called 'the expertise of lived experience' which is often under-recognised and even undermined by the social institutions that govern contemporary social life.
It's an idea that developed out of a collective consciousness and political solidarity that grew from the consumer/survivor movement and provides a way of looking at the world from the point of view of a group that has been marginalised and discriminated against.
Consumer perspective is about 'belonging' and reclaiming citizenship using the language and terms defined by the group for itself.
Consumer perspective is also:
- that 'hard to define' camaraderie that draws people together in an acute unit and the recognition that any oppression we face is a shared oppression;
- an intangible recognition that happens in services which leads us not to 'dob on' each other;
- the allowance we give everyone to define what is happening for them in their own way;
- a healthy questioning of taken for granted definitions of 'professionalism';
- knowing and believing in the concept of consumer 'common-sense';
- a historically wary way of looking at the world.
Consumer perspective is not about:
- interpreting others' behaviour using the tools supplied by the medical establishment;
- blindly accepting the language supplied by the medical model;
- assuming any one of us can speak for others;
- setting up our own groups and organisations which merely imitate the inequitable power relationships we have experienced in services;
- assuming that any of us is different and somehow better placed to mentor others whom we perceive and categorise as less able.
How are 'consumer views' different from 'consumer perspective'?
We have an infinite number of different views within consumer perspective
While the idea of 'consumer perspective' can be understood as singular, consumer views can never be understood in this way. There are as many different views as there are individuals diagnosed with 'mental illness'!
This is important to keep in mind because people often confuse an individual consumer's experience with 'consumer perspective' (so, for example, if one consumer is happy with a service, they might say "consumers are happy with our service"). This has implications for consumers representing other consumers.
We can offer our consumer perspective - speaking from the lived experience, and stressing the importance of this lived experience being respected. Our views are shaped by:
- Social Institutions: We use this term to include governments, the family, the media, legal systems, etc. It is impossible to live in the social world without being influenced by social institutions. Each of us is affected differently, depending on our position within these institutions.
- Personal History: Our own personal history affects our views too. This includes our childhood, whether we lived through child abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, absent parents or anything else that deeply affected our ability to operate within the institutions of our community. Personal history doesn't stop with childhood - we make it every day, and every day it continues to make us.
- World View: The modern world is fast changing, fragmented and stressful. To survive as individuals and as a culture we need a way to understand new information - sometimes called our "world view". It helps us see the big picture, make decisions about what information is important and what can be discarded; what becomes a priority; what is worth fighting for; whether we are convinced by medical definitions of what is happening in our lives and whether we choose to become politicised as consumers or whether we put our energy somewhere else.