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Service user involvement is about making sure that mental health services, organizations and policies are led and shaped by the people best placed to know what works: people who use mental health services. They are experts by experience. Increasingly, meaningful involvement of people who use — or have used — services is being recognized as an indispensable part of mental health service delivery. When people are equipped and supported to help commission, deliver and check the services they and their peers use, those services improve and the people involved gain in confidence and skills.

The history of service user involvement in mental health spans at least five decades. Opportunities for service user involvement have been created by three main factors of de‐institutionalization, questioning of the legitimacy of biomedical theory and practice of consumerism. The contemporary interest in involving service users in their own care and treatment derives from the philosophical and political critiques of traditional psychiatry that emerged at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s in Europe, the USA and Canada.

These movements were a response of anger against the biomedical model, psychiatry and institutions. A background of social change and government mental health policy initiatives has provided the setting in which the concept of service user involvement has arisen. Mental health care has undergone some profound changes over the years which have made it possible for the service user involvement agenda to emerge. Service user involvement has now become a key policy action which informs and underpins health and social services.

The term service user involvement has become popular in the mental health field.