Carers identified?

Learning a new language

Page last updated: 2010

In mental health there are many terms you may not be familiar with. Some of the more common terms you might hear are explained below.

Mental illness

A disorder of the mind that affects a person's ability to function properly, eg, their thinking, feeling or ability to work or socialize. Top of page

Mental health service

A specialised service that provides assessment, treatment and support for people experiencing mental illness. Mental health services include both inpatient and community based services and are available on both a public and private basis.

Inpatient services

When someone is admitted to a psychiatric hospital they may be cared for in either an open or a closed ward. This will be dependent on what is considered the safest option for that person at any point in time.


A person receiving treatment from a mental health service.

Carer/family carers

Any family member, relative or friend who provides ongoing care and support for a person with a mental illness without payment.

Case manager/care co-ordinator/key worker

A mental health worker who may be assigned to help a person being treated by the mental health service. All people in these positions are required to have training to be able to assist a person by:
  • Helping them to identify ways they can develop a treatment plan and work towards recovery from mental illness
  • Educating them about mental illness and how they can manage their symptoms
  • Linking them to other services and community organisations
  • Being a contact person in the mental health service
  • Providing support and education to families and carers. Top of page

Multidisciplinary teams/the mental health team

Specialist mental health services provide treatment and support through multidisciplinary teams made up of professionals from various disciplines (e.g. Psychiatrists, Medical Practitioners, Nurses, Social Workers, Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, Aboriginal Health Workers and Aboriginal Mental Health Workers). The team may also include people who work in the non-government sector such as personal mentors and peer support workers. Each of these people have different training and skills. They will work with each other, and with you, to make sure the treatment plan developed for your family member or friend is put into action.


Nurses are educated to promote good health, prevent illness, and the care for people when they are ill. They work in a broad range of health settings including in hospitals and GP clinics. Some have received specialist training in mental health. When your family member or friend is in hospital it is the nurses who will provide 24 hour care.

Occupational therapists

A person specifically trained to assess the practical skills that a person has and to develop programs to support the person to learn new skills in managing day to day living that build their independence.


A doctor who has undertaken additional specialised training that qualifies him or her to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication. Top of page

Psychiatric registrar

A doctor who is currently undertaking specialised training for registration as a Psychiatrist. Registrars are able to prescribe medication.

Psychiatric medical officer

A doctor who has experience in the treatment of people who have a mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse but no specialist qualifications. They are able to prescribe medication.

Psychiatric case manager

A person appointed to monitor the progress of the treatment and care of a person receiving treatment under a community management or treatment order.

Social workers

A person specifically trained to work with people to change the way in which they live. This may involve assisting them with their finances or accommodation and helping them to navigate community welfare services that may offer support.


A person who has usually completed a postgraduate degree in psychology. Psychologists are people who have undertaken additional specialist training in the assessment of behaviour and mental functioning, and ways of helping people change how they may think, feel and act towards themselves and other people. Psychologists are not trained in general medicine and are unable to prescribe medication. Top of page


From the perspective of the person with mental illness, recovery means gaining and retaining hope, understanding of ones abilities and disabilities, engagement in an active life, personal autonomy, social identity, meaning and purpose in life, and a positive sense of self. It is important to remember that recovery is not the same as cure.