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Mental health A-Z

This glossary is based on information from the National Mental Health Commission.
A B C D E F I J L M N O P Q R S T U All

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

A person of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Activity Based Funding

Activity Based Funding (ABF) is a system for funding public hospital services where the health service providers (hospitals) are funded based on the activity they undertake; that is, on the number of patients treated and services provided. Australian Governments agreed to implement ABF under the National Health and Hospitals Reform Agreement 2012.

Affective disorder

Affective disorders, or mood disorders, are a set of mental illnesses characterised by dramatic changes or extremes of mood. The main types of affective disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder.


A common mental illness, characterised by persistent and excessive worry, and ruminative thinking. Common physical symptoms include a racing heart, hot and cold flushes and a tightening of the chest. A person can feel so distressed it can make it hard for them to cope with and participate in daily life or take pleasure in activities.

Better Access Program

The shortened name for the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule initiative. Under Better Access, psychiatrists, GPs and psychologists (and appropriately trained social workers and occupational therapists) provide mental health services on a fee-for-service basis subsidised through Medicare. These services offer access to short-term psychological therapies through private providers.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is an illness that results from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, which can cause episodic fluctuations of mood from extremes of mania (elevated mood which may be out of character for the person), to the depths of depression (persistent low mood).

Borderline Personality Disorder

People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) frequently experience distressing emotional states, difficulty in relating to other people, and self‑harming behaviour. Symptoms can include deep feelings of insecurity, persistent impulsiveness, and confused and contradictory feelings.

Burden of Disease

Burden of Disease is a measure used in the study of the health of a population. It is used to assess and compare the relative impact of different diseases and injuries on groups of people (populations). It quantifies the loss of health due to disease and injury that the person continues to have after treatment, rehabilitation or prevention interventions.

Cardiovascular Disease

Also known as circulatory disease or heart disease. Any disease of the circulatory system, namely the heart (cardio) or blood vessels (vascular). Includes heart attack, angina, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.


A person who has a support role for someone living with a mental health difficulty. They may be a family member, friend or have another close relationship with the person. Also referred to as a ‘support person’.

Chronic disease

A diverse group of diseases, such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes and arthritis, which tend to be long-lasting and persistent in their symptoms or development.


The presence of two separate illnesses at the same time in a person, such as co-existing mental illness and substance use problems. This is the preferred term used by the Commission, rather than dual diagnosis.

Cognitive Impairment

Any characteristic that a person has that acts as a barrier to the cognitive (or thinking) process. Can be used to describe poor mental function, confusion, forgetfulness and other mental impairments.


The presence of one or more illnesses (or diseases) in a person, in addition to a primary disease or disorder; for example, chronic lung disease and diabetes.

Contributing Life

A fulfilling life where people living with a mental health difficulty can expect the same rights, opportunities and health as the wider community. It is a life enriched with close connections to family and friends, supported by good health, wellbeing and health care. It means having a safe, stable and secure home and having something to do each day that provides meaning and purpose, whether this is a job, supporting others or volunteering.

Contributing Life Project

A range of activities undertaken by the National Mental Health Commission to pilot the best method through which people can talk regularly with the Commission about their daily lives and what may help or hinder them to live a contributing life.

Criminal Justice System

The system that involves police, courts of law, juvenile justice, prison and corrections facilities, probation and parole, and deals with criminal matters and people charged with an offence.


A mood disorder where people experience prolonged feelings of being sad, hopeless, low and inadequate, with a loss of interest or pleasure in activities and often with suicidal thoughts or self-blame. People can experience low self-esteem and apathy or a feeling of emptiness.

Diabetes (Diabetes mellitus)

A condition that occurs when the body cannot use glucose normally. Glucose (a type of sugar) is the main source of energy for the body’s cells.


Prejudicial action or distinguishing treatment of a person based on their actual or perceived membership in a certain group or category of people. This may take overt (intentional and obvious) or subtle (unintentional or embedded in social structure or process) forms. Discrimination can also include acts that are unlawful under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Diversion Schemes

Programs which seek to divert people who are facing criminal charges in a court into a rehabilitation, treatment or intervention program that is intended to address underlying problems such as drug or alcohol dependency, mental illness, homelessness or extreme poverty. Diversion programs focus on the causes of a person’s offending, rather than punitive action.

Early Intervention

Intervening early in an illness or at an appropriate age to avoid detrimental impacts upon a person’s health or development. In the context of mental health it is used to describe a co-ordinated approach to assisting a child, young person or adult through the early assessment and identification of risk factors, allowing the provision of timely treatment for problems to alleviate potential health problems. It is a term widely used in both mental health and childhood development.


The study of health-related factors and impacts at the whole population level. This includes the study of the distribution and determinants of health and health impacting events (including disease or pollution), and the application of this study to the control of diseases and other population and public health problems.

Equivalence of Care

The principle according to which prison health systems are obliged to provide people in prison with the equivalent quality of care that they would receive in the community for a physical health or mental health problem.

Family and support people/supporters

“Family and support include family members, partners, friends or anyone whose primary relationship with the person concerned is a personal, supportive and caring one.” A national framework for recovery-oriented mental health services: Policy and theory (2013)

First responders

Personnel who first intervene or respond to a crisis, such as paramedics, police and fire‑fighters.

Forensic order

A legal authority to detain a person in a mental health unit or a high security setting. The court may make a forensic order when a person is mentally unwell and unable to stand trial following an offence, or was mentally unwell at the time of the offence.

Forensic Services

Mental health services that work with people who are mentally unwell and who have been through the criminal justice system. Generally, forensic mental health services comprise forensic inpatient units, juvenile forensic services, community services, and prison, court assessment and liaison services.


Putting a person in jail; or imprisonment.

Involuntary treatment

Refers to a person being treated for their illness without their consent, either in hospital or in the community. This may occur when a person is assessed as being in need of urgent mental health treatment due to the severity of their illness, a risk of harm to themselves or another person, or where they are assessed as being unable to make decisions regarding their own care.


The geographical area over which an authority extends. In the Report Card this is used to refer to states, territories and the Commonwealth.

Justice Reinvestment

A program which diverts a portion of the funds spent on incarceration to communities where there is a high concentration of offenders. The money that would have been spent on custodial services is reinvested into education and services that address the underlying causes of crime.

Juvenile Justice

The corrective system for young offenders; for those aged 10-17 years.

Lateral violence

Lateral violence, also known as horizontal violence, is a set of behaviours that are damaging to other people, and include gossiping, jealousy, bullying, shaming, social exclusion, family feuding, organisational conflict and physical violence.

Medicare Locals

Medicare Locals are primary health care organisations established under the Australian Government’s National Health Reforms to co‑ordinate primary health care delivery and manage local health care needs and service gaps.


Mental health-related medications typically refers to five selected medications groups as classified under the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification System (World Health Organization), namely anti‑psychotics, anxiolytics, hypnotics and sedatives, anti‑depressants, and psycho-stimulants and nootropics.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is the help provided to a person who is developing a mental health problem, or who is in a mental health crisis, until appropriate professional treatment is received or the crisis resolves. MHFA skills are taught through courses which teach mental health first-aid strategies in evidence-based training programs.

Mental Health Literacy

Knowledge and beliefs about mental illness which can impact problem recognition, mental illness management and prevention.

Mental Illness

Disturbances of mood or thought that can affect behaviour and distress the person or those around them, so the person has difficulties in daily life functioning. They include a range of illness such as the more common anxiety disorders and depression to the less common schizophrenia.

Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance

A national collaboration between the National Mental Health Commission, business, government and the mental health sector. The Alliance aims to create mentally healthy workplaces across Australia, in small and large business across all sectors.


Discrimination at the personal level; for example, discriminatory attitudes in the workplace by co‑workers.


How individuals are singled out, treated as ‘different’ or ignored repeatedly during the everyday interactions of life and is based on discrimination (which is not necessarily intentional). The cumulative impact of such interactions can be significant.

Model of Care

Defines the way health services are delivered. It outlines the group or series of services which are required for the optimum treatment of a person or population group for a specific injury or illness, those required across the stages of treatment and across the stages of care (from acute through to non‑acute and rehabilitation) whether that be provided in the community or hospital/facility or by different services.


Acronym used to describe a young person who is ‘not engaged in employment or training’.

Obsessive compulsive disorder

A form of anxiety disorder where repeated and unwanted thoughts and impulses disturb and dominate a person. Often involves rituals, such as excessive hand washing, checking and counting, which in turn cause anxiety if such actions are prevented or out of control.

Partners in recovery (PIR)

An Australian Government program which aims to better support people with severe and persistent mental illness with complex needs and their carers and families, by improving collaboration and co‑ordination.

Person with lived experience of a mental health difficulty

The Commission prefers to use the term ‘people with a lived experience’ to describe people experiencing mental health difficulties, their families and support people, to ensure that our language in the Report Card is clear, both to people who recognise the term ‘consumer’ and those who do not identify with an established mental health consumer movement.


The proportion of people in a population found to have a condition at a certain point in time. It is arrived at by comparing the number of people found with a condition to the number of people studied. Prevalence is usually expressed as a fraction or percentage.

Psychiatric Disability

Psychiatric Disability is the consequence and impact of a mental illness on the affected person’s ability to function and is a term used in the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Psychiatric disability may be intermittent and associated with symptoms of schizophrenia, affective disorders, anxiety disorders, addictive behaviours, personality disorders, stress, psychosis, depression and adjustment disorders. The Commission, however, prefers the term psychosocial disability to describe the type of disability as it affects the daily functioning of a person and to recognise the broader social disadvantage and effects of mental illness on people.


A mental state where a person experiences seriously distorted thinking, actions and feelings. It involves delusions and hallucinations, and can alienate a person from reality. Psychotic disorders are less common than other forms of mental illness.

Qualitative Research

A research approach which aims to gather an indepth understanding of human behaviour and experience. It makes use of methods such as focus groups, in-depth interviews and observation.


When people re-offend after already being through the criminal justice system.


“There is no single definition or description of recovery. Starting with the initial assumption that personal recovery is different for everyone, it is defined within this framework as ‘being able to create and live a meaningful and contributing life in a community of choice with or without the presence of mental health issues’”. As defined in: A national framework for recovery-oriented mental health services: Policy and theory (2013).

Restorative Justice

An approach that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders as well as the involved community. Victims take an active role in the process while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, by apologising or community service.


When somebody’s movements are restricted by the use of straps or belts (physical restraint) or sedation (chemical restraint).


A mental illness involving seriously distorted thinking, actions and feelings (psychosis) episodically, which makes functioning in society difficult for people with this condition. For about one per cent of the population, schizophrenia develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, and may be with them for the rest of their lives. Once this condition has been diagnosed, medical treatment is generally effective.



When someone is confined in a specific room from which they cannot freely leave.

Sentinel events

A relatively infrequent, clear-cut event that occurs independently of a patient’s condition; it commonly reflects hospital system and process deficiencies, and results in unnecessary outcomes for the patient.

Sexual Orientation

A combination of emotional, romantic, sexual or affectionate attraction to another person. Specialist mental health service Services with a primary function to provide treatment, rehabilitation or community health support targeted towards people with a mental illness or a disability arising from their illness.


A negative opinion or judgement held about certain people by individuals or society. Stigma against people with a mental illness involves inaccurate and hurtful representations of them as violent, comical or incompetent. This can be dehumanising and makes people an object of fear or ridicule. If these propositions are acted upon, these actions are discriminatory – see also Discrimination. Stigma can occur in the media in the form of reports that refer to inaccurate stereotypes, sensationalise issues through unwarranted references to mental illness, misuse medical terminology, or use demeaning or hostile language. Self-stigma is the acceptance of prejudiced perceptions held by others.

Structural discrimination

Term used to describe discrimination at the institutional level; for example, workplace practices.

Substance misuse

Term used to describe use of a substance which is illegal or inconsistent with medical guidelines.

Substance use disorder

A disorder of harmful use and/or dependence on either legal or illegal substances, including alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs.

Suicidal behaviour

Term used to describe behaviours and thoughts that people have to deliberately harm themselves.

Suicidal ideation

Persistent, intrusive thoughts of wishing to be dead, or deliberate planning or actual attempts to take one’s own life.


Deliberately ending one’s own life.

Suicide attempt

A non-fatal self-directed injury or behaviour with the intent to cause death. A suicide attempt may or may not result in injury.

Support person

"Family and support include family members, partners, friends or anyone whose primary relationship with the person concerned is a personal, supportive and caring one." As defined in: A national framework for recovery‑oriented mental health services: Policy and theory (2013).

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

A global organisation with membership from 34 countries which works to promote policies that aim to improve the economic and social well‑being of people around the world. Representatives of the 34 OECD member countries meet in specialised committees to advance ideas and review progress in specific policy areas, such as economics, trade, science, employment, education or financial markets.

Twelve month disorder

Having experienced symptoms of a mental or physical disorder in the last twelve months.

Twelve month prevalence

The prevalence of a mental or physical disorder in the population over the last 12 months. 


An employment situation that is insufficient for the person, or jobs that are inadequate with respect to training or potential economic benefits.