Department of Health

Terminology and language

The pages in this section use language to describe and discuss themes and ideas relating to mental health, but we acknowledge others might use different words to communicate their experience which are also valid.

We use the words and language of the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System.

The following introduction and glossary table is from the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System's Final ReportExternal Link :

"Language is powerful, and words have differing meanings for different people.

There is no single set of definitions used to describe how people experience their mental health, and this diversity is reflected in the many terms used to capture people's experiences throughout the evidence put before the Commission.

Words and language can have a lasting impact on a person's life. They can empower and embolden. They can be used to convey hope and empathy. But they can also be divisive when used to dispossess and divide, and to stigmatise and label.

The Commission also acknowledges that language can be deeply contested and nuanced. Although at all times trying to use inclusive language, the Commission is conscious that not everyone will agree with the terminology used. Following is a list of terms the Commission has chosen to use throughout this report, largely on the basis of ensuring alignment with its Letters Patent.

The Commission departs from these terms (in the table below) only when referring to specific data sources, describing research works or quoting an individual or organisation. The original language is retained wherever possible to accurately reflect the views and evidence presented to the Commission. For example, the Commission quotes individuals and organisations that sometimes refer to ‘mental disorder', rather than the Commission's preferred terms ‘mental illness' or ‘poor mental health'. Terms such as ‘disorder' can be pathologising and stigmatising, so the Commission retains them only if used by others to convey specific meaning."


CarerMeans a person, including a person under the age of 18 years, who provides care to another person with whom they are in a relationship of care.
ConsumerPeople who identify as having a living or lived experience of mental illness, irrespective of whether they have a formal diagnosis, who have accessed mental health services and/or received treatment.
FamilyMay refer to family of origin and/or family of choice.
Good mental healthA state of wellbeing in which a person realises their own abilities can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to their community.
Lived experiencePeople with lived experience identify either as someone who is living with (or has lived with) mental illness or someone who is caring for or otherwise supporting (or has cared for or otherwise supported) a person who is living with (or has lived with) mental illness. People with lived experience are sometimes referred to as ‘consumers' or ‘carers'. The Commission acknowledges that the experiences of consumers and carers are different.
Mental illness

A medical condition that is characterised by a significant disturbance of thought, mood, perception or memory.

The Commission uses the above definition of mental illness consistent with the Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic) and recognises the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council Declaration released on 1 November 2019. The declaration notes that people with lived experience can have varying ways of understanding the experiences that are often called ‘mental illness'. It acknowledges that mental illness can be described using terms such as ‘neurodiversity', ‘emotional distress', ‘trauma' and ‘mental health challenges'.

Poor mental healthA combined term for referring to mental illness and psychological distress.
Psychological distressOne measure of poor mental health, which can be described as feelings of tiredness, anxiety, nervousness, hopelessness, depression and sadness. This is consistent with the definition accepted by the National Mental Health Commission.
Social and emotional wellbeingBeing resilient, being and feeling culturally safe and connected, having and realising aspirations, and being satisfied with life. This is consistent with BalitMurrup, Victoria's Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing framework.

Other terminology used in our work


Co-design brings citizens and stakeholders together to design new products, services and policies. Key terminology:

Expert mindset: where decisions are based on the prior knowledge and experience of experts.

Participatory mindset: where decisions are based on the consensus of the group.

Inclusion: adapting project activities so that communities or citizens can be involved.

More information on co-design is available on the Victorian Government website at Link .


Co-production of public services is a concept with many meanings and many faces, but it basically refers to citizens and clients assisting in the production of public services.

A distinction has also been made between co-production and co-creation. In co-production, people who use services take over some of the work done by practitioners. In co-creation, on the other hand, people who use services work with professionals to design, create and deliver services.

RecommendationRoyal Commissions make recommendations to government about what should change. The Victorian Government has committed to implementing all recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System.
Royal CommissionA Royal Commission is an investigation, independent of government, into a matter of great importance. Royal Commissions have broad powers to hold public hearings, call witnesses under oath and compel evidence. Each Royal Commission has terms of reference, which define the issues it will look into.

Reviewed 01 February 2024

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