Find the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC) mental health language guide and glossary of frequently used terms.
Sometimes we use words directly from the Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic) (the Act) to ensure accuracy and consistency. For example, we refer to a people who access mental health services as ‘consumers’ (s 3 of the Act). However, many people with lived experience of mental health challenges and services prefer to describe themselves in other ways. Learn more from . When we know how a person wishes to be referred to, we respect this wherever possible.
Mental health language guide
Our language guide is a resource for anyone who wants to use person-centred, clear, inclusive and respectful language in a mental health context.
Download the guide:
These are some terms frequently used by the MHCC:
A document that sets out a person’s preferences for treatment in the event they become a compulsory patient under the Act.
A form of physical or mechanical restraint that prevents a person having free movement of his or her limbs but does not include the use of restrictive furniture such as beds with cot sides and chairs with tables fitted on their arms (s 3 of the Act).
A person, including a person under 18 years, who provides care to another person with whom they are in a care relationship, but not a parent if the person is under 16 (s 3 of the Act). Some people prefer terms such as 'support person,' 'family of choice' or 'partner' to ‘carer.'
When a person receives care from or provides care to another person because one is older or has a disability, mental ‘illness’ or ongoing medical condition (as defined in the ). This includes young carers.
An expression of dissatisfaction about a mental health service for which a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected from the MHCC or is legally required (based on Australian Standard AS/NZS 10002:2014). Complaints to the MHCC can be made orally or in writing. To be formally accepted, they need to be made or confirmed in writing.
A person who accesses mental health services (see s 3 of the Act). People with lived experience of accessing mental health services also describe themselves as 'service users,' 'survivors,' 'clients' and 'patients.'
A request for information, advice or assistance. Enquiries to the MHCC can include requests from people for information about accessing services or how to make a complaint about their treatment or care.
Mental health services (public)
Designated mental health services and publicly funded mental health community support services (see s 3 of the Act):
- designated mental health services: public mental health clinical services prescribed under the Act that may compulsorily assess and treat people under the Act. These services also provide treatment on a voluntary basis and include hospital-based, community, residential, specialist and forensic services
- publicly funded mental health community support services: community support services for people experiencing mental health issues that are publicly funded and provided by non-government organisations
The Act defines 'mental illness' as a medical condition that is characterised by a 'significant disturbance of thought, mood, perception or memory' (s 4(1)) and the MHCC uses this term when legal accuracy is required.
However, many people find this term unnecessarily pathologises their experience and distress. Many people prefer other terms including 'mental ill-health,' 'mental health condition,' 'mental health challenges' or mental health issues. The MHCC prefers to use these terms wherever possible.
Under the Act, the role of a nominated person is to:
- provide the patient with support
- help represent the interests of the patient
- receive information about the patient
- be consulted about the patient’s treatment
- assist the patient to exercise any right they have under the Act
The MHCC has a function to identify, analyse and review quality, safety and other issues arising out of complaints against mental health services. We make recommendations for them to mental health service providers, the Chief Psychiatrist, the Secretary to the Department of Health and the Minister for Mental Health in Victoria (s 228(j) of the Act).
Seclusion or bodily restraint (s 3 of the Act).
The sole confinement of a person to a room or any other enclosed space from which they cannot leave (s 3 of the Act).
The MHCC can require a mental health service to make a formal undertaking to take specific action(s) in response to a complaint. Undertakings are used in many regulatory settings to promote compliance with laws and requirements without the need for court proceedings. They are legally enforceable in that the Commissioner can issue a compliance notice, with which it is an offence not to comply (s 243 and s 260 of the Act).
Reviewed 15 April 2021