ADD or ADHD: Attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorders which occur in 3-5% of school-age children; these disorders are characterised by inattention and hyperactivity or impulsivity and affect academic performance, behaviour and social functioning.

Adverse life event: a stressful or difficult event in a person's life, which may increase the risk of mental health problems or illness, e.g. separation or divorce, losing a job, death of a friend or family member.

Affective Disorders: a group of disorders including Depression which have a negative impact upon a person's mood or 'affect'.

Agoraphobia: fear of being in situations from which it may be difficult or embarrassing to get away if the person experiences a panic attack, or fear that help may not be available if needed, e.g. in a crowded shopping centre, on public transport etc

Anorexia nervosa: self-induced weight loss (or failure to grow) due to starvation, exercise and purging; there is an intense fear of becoming fat even when severely underweight, resulting in a preoccupation about body weight, eating and food.

Anxiety: a set of physical, mental and behavioural changes experienced in response to danger or a threat, when the brain sends signals to the body to prepare for 'fight or flight' - this causes an increase in heart rate and breathing as well as other physiological changes.

Anxiety disorder: a group of illnesses characterised by intense feelings of anxiety, often without cause or out of proportion to the threat posed by the situation; these feelings result in considerable discomfort and tension and make the person unable to function effectively in the feared situation. Examples include various types of phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Asperger's Syndrome: a disorder thought to be related to autism, featuring difficulties with social interaction and communication, as well as restricted interests. Unlike typical autism, it is not associated with delays in language or cognitive development or with significant intellectual impairment.

Attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a disorder seen in 3-5% of school-age children, characterised by inattention and hyperactivity or impulsivity; it affects academic performance, behaviour and social functioning.

Autism / Autism Spectrum Disorders: disorders of development that involve difficulties with communication and social interaction, limited interests or activities and repetitive behaviour. There is normally impaired or delayed development of language and cognitive skills, as well as intellectual impairment.


Bereavement: the grief and sadness experienced after a significant loss, such as the death of a loved one, relationship breakdown, loss of home or security, etc.

Bipolar mood disorder: a disorder which involves recurrent episodes of depressed moods and extremely elevated moods or mania, in which the person is in a state of elation and overactivity; previously called manic depressive disorder.

Bulimia nervosa: also called Bulimia; an eating disorder characterised by restrictive eating patterns, binge-eating of calorie-rich foods and attempts to compensate by self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, or compulsive exercise.

Bullying: repeated attacks on a person (verbal, physical, social or psychological) which cause distress at the time and also cause longer-term distress because of the possibility of future attacks.


Child abuse: a pattern of inappropriate treatment of a child, which may include physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect of the child's care.

Clinical Depression: a mental illness characterised by feelings of extreme sadness or hopelessness, as well as other emotional and physical symptoms. See also Depression.

Compulsion: a repetitive behaviour or ritual that a person is driven to perform, in order to control their anxiety about an obsessive thought or worry. For example, a person who is obsessively worried about contamination or infection may feel compelled to wash their hands excessively. See also Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Conduct disorder: recurrent behaviour over at least 6-12 months showing no regard for social norms or the rights of others; may include aggression toward people or animals, property damage, violation of rules, deceitfulness or theft.

Critical incident plan: a plan which outlines in advance how an organisation, such as a school, should respond in the event of a disaster or emergency, such as a natural disaster, bomb threat, suicide, or medical emergency.


Delusions: beliefs or thoughts which are bizarre and are different from most people in that person's culture, e.g. a person believing without cause that they are being persecuted or plotted against, that their thoughts are being broadcast aloud, or that they are someone else, such as a famous person or religious figure.

Depression: feelings of sadness and grief experienced by everyone at some time, such as a response to a negative event or situation. Severe or persistent negative feelings may indicate a mental illness - this can also be called Depression or may be differentiated by terms such as Clinical Depression, Depressive Illness or Mood Disorder. In these illnesses, people may also experience: anxiety, guilt, changes in sleep and eating patterns, hopelessness, loss of energy, headaches and physical pains, poor concentration, suicidal thoughts or behaviour.

Drugs: substances which have an effect on the human body, the use of which may be legal or illegal. Drugs may include over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, cigarettes, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, etc. See also Substance Use and Substance Abuse.


Early intervention: in mental health, this term means picking up the early signs of a mental health problem or disorder and providing support at an early stage before the situation worsens, e.g. a teacher referring a troubled student to the school counsellor.

Eating disorders: a group of illnesses characterised by disturbed eating patterns and a preoccupation with body weight. Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa are eating disorders, but there are also other forms.

Emotional abuse: a pattern of abuse in which the person's sense of self and emotional security is undermined, e.g. by verbal abuse, threats of maltreatment and severe punishment, rejecting the person and with-holding affection, creating a climate of fear, or keeping the person socially isolated. This can occur in adult relationships, as well as in adult-child relationships. See also Child Abuse.


GRIP framework: a framework which can guide teachers in how to respond to a troubled young person: Gather, Respond, Involve, Promote. Refer to Risk and Resilience: A Teacher's Guide to Mental Health.


Hallucinations: sensing or feeling something which is not there, even though it seems real, e.g. hearing voices, seeing people or things which aren't there, feeling or smelling something that is not real.

Health: a state of physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing, which is more than simply the absence of an illness.

Health promoting schools: schools which make a commitment to creating and maintaining an environment that will promote the health of those in the school community. This is best achieved by working across three domains: (1) curriculum, teaching and learning (2) school ethos and environment and (3) partnerships with the community and services.

Help-seeking behaviour: a willingness and ability to seek personal and/or professional support when facing physical or mental health problems, or personal difficulties.


Incidence: the number of newly identified cases of a condition or event in a given time period, usually in a year. Often expressed as a figure per 100,000 population.

Indicated intervention: in mental health, this means a specific program or response that is designed to help people who are showing early signs of a mental health problem or disorder.


Mania / manic episode: a state of elation and overactivity, in which a person may feel invincible, have increased energy and reduced need for sleep, rapid thinking and speech, lack of inhibitions, grandiose plans and beliefs; if challenged they are likely to lack insight into their behaviour and may become irritable. See also Bipolar Mood Disorder.

Manic depression: a term previously used for Bipolar Mood Disorder. A disorder which involves recurrent episodes of depressed moods and extremely elevated moods or mania, in which the person is in a state of elation and overactivity.

Mental health: the capacity of people to have positive and appropriate thoughts, feelings, behaviour and relationships with others. Mentally healthy people interact with one another and their environment in ways that promote subjective wellbeing, achievement of goals, and optimal use of their abilities.

Mental health problem: negative or altered thoughts, feelings or behaviour, but not to the extent seen in mental illness. Mental health problems include transient or moderate feelings of sadness, worry or stress, perhaps in response to change or difficult situations.

Mental health promotion: a program or a systematic approach which will enhance people's mental health, e.g. by reducing or preventing risk factors (such as addressing school bullying) or promoting protective factors (such as building resilience and connections with others).

Mental illness / disorder: a recognised illness with a distinct set of symptoms affecting a person's thoughts, feelings or behaviour. Diagnosis usually requires a combination of symptoms, of a certain severity, which must be present over a minimum time period.


Nervous breakdown: a term used by some people when a person becomes unable to function socially, or at school or work, because of a mental health problem or disorder.

Non-psychotic illnesses: mental illnesses which do not generally include psychotic symptoms, such as phobias, anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder. However some of these disorders can be associated with psychotic symptoms in certain cases.


Obsessions: repetitive, unwanted thoughts or impulses which are disruptive to a person's life. See also Compulsion and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Obsessive Compulsive disorder: a disorder in which a person experiences obsessions and compulsions to a degree which causes disruption to their everyday life. For example, an obsession about contamination or infection may cause a person to adopt the compulsive ritual of washing their hands excessively after contact with others.

Oppositional defiant disorder: a recurrent pattern of defiant, disobedient and hostile behaviour toward authority figures over at least 6 months; a child with this disorder frequently loses his or her temper, argues with parents or teachers, refuses to follow rules and may deliberately annoy others.


Panic attack: a feeling of panic, with associated physical symptoms, which often starts suddenly or for no apparent reason, and is not associated with a particular event or situation: symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, feeling faint, shaking, dry mouth, pounding heart, tingling, sweating, an urge to flee, nausea, blurred vision, difficulty gathering thoughts.

Panic disorder: people with this disorder experience more than one panic attack, which is not associated with a particular event or situation, and then become worried about having another attack.

Personality Disorder: a pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviour (such as paranoid or antisocial behaviour) that is different from or more extreme than other people in that person's culture and causes distress or poor functioning.

Phobia: intense fears about particular objects or situations, such as a fear of spiders or heights, to a degree which causes distress and interferes with the person's life.

Postnatal depression: a disorder affecting about 10-12% of new mothers in which they experience sadness, anxiety, guilt, changes in appetite and sleep patterns; symptoms are more severe and long-lasting than those experienced by the majority of new mothers.

Post traumatic stress disorder: recurrent feelings of terror, frightening dreams or flashbacks which result from a previous traumatic event (such as war, torture, accident or violence), causing disruption in the person's current life.

Prevalence: the proportion of the population or sub-group who experience a given disorder or condition, often expressed as a percentage - e.g. 10-12% of new mothers experience postnatal depression.

Psychiatrist: a doctor who has undertaken additional training to become a specialist in mental illness and can prescribe medications as well as providing or referring people to other forms of treatment and support, e.g. counselling.

Psychologist: a professional trained in assessing people's behaviour and abilities, who can offer advice in regard to certain situations; a clinical psychologist specialises in mental health problems and illness, rather than other aspects of people's behaviour. A psychologist does not prescribe medication but can provide a range of other therapies.

Psychosis / psychotic episode: a period of mental illness in which a person loses touch with reality and may experience delusions, hallucinations, mood changes, disorganised thoughts and other symptoms; can occur in several types of mental illness such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Mood Disorder.


Resilience: a person's ability to bounce back after experiencing difficult events or situations, which helps to protect them from developing a mental health problem or illness. It can be promoted by fostering a sense of caring and connection with others, by believing in a person and offering support to help people reach their goals, and by ensuring that a person has opportunities for contribution and participation.

Risk factor: a factor associated with a higher risk for developing a particular illness, e.g. high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. Some risk factors increase the chance of developing a mental health problem or illness, such as having a parent with a mental illness, being bullied or abused, or experiencing a stressful life event.

Risk taking behaviour: a pattern of behaviour in which a person is attracted to dangerous and sometimes illegal activities, such as violence, excessive alcohol or drug use, unsafe sexual practices, hanging from moving trains or vehicles, etc.


Same-sex attraction: being sexually attracted to a person of the same gender; may be used to encompass terms such as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Schizophrenia: a mental illness in which symptoms include confused thoughts, speech and behaviour, delusions and hallucinations. It usually has its first onset in adolescence or early adulthood. People with schizophrenia do not have a 'split personality.'

Selective intervention: in mental health, this means a specific program or response designed to help people who have a risk of developing a mental health problem or disorder, e.g. a program working with people who have experienced bullying.

Self-harm: a deliberate action someone takes to physically harm themselves, such as by cutting, burning, or taking harmful substances; it is seen in some forms of mental illness and increases the chance of suicidal behaviour.

Sexual abuse: occurs when a person is forced by another to engage in unwanted and/or underage sexual activity. It may be in the form of non-contact sexual abuse (e.g. being forced to watch sex or pornography), contact abuse (e.g. being forced to touch the genitals) or intercourse (rape).

Social and emotional wellbeing: being able to function well socially and feel well emotionally; an alternative term for 'mental health' and the preferred term for some people, including many Indigenous communities.

Social phobia: a disorder in which people fear that everything they do will be judged in a negative way, so they limit what they do in front of others and may withdraw from social contact.

Socio-economic problems: a broad term to describe the inter-related social and financial problems that exist in some communities or families; socio-economic problems (such as poverty, unemployment, family discord or child abuse) increase the risk of mental health problems or disorders.

Split personality: a description sometimes used wrongly in association with the term schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia do not have a 'split personality'.

Stigma: a negative association or preconception, which causes discrimination against a person or group; e.g. negative stereotypes and misconceptions cause discrimination against those with a mental illness, making it harder for them to seek help and support.

Stress: a term used to describe negative feelings of anxiety or depression a person may experience when they are overly busy or have a number of negative events or situations in their lives; severe or prolonged stress may increase the risk of a mental health problem or disorder.

Substance abuse / dependence / disorder: the recurrent use of drugs or alcohol to the extent that a person's social functioning and behaviour are affected, and they may be unable to meet their obligations at school or work or in the home.

Substance use or drug use: the deliberate, non-medical use of a drug by a person, to alter their own feelings or behaviour. This term may be applied to prescription drugs, cigarettes, alcohol or illicit drugs.

Suicidal behaviour: a collective term for behaviours such as suicide and attempted suicide, in which a person harms themselves in a deliberate attempt to end their own life.

Suicidal thoughts / ideation: thinking about suicide or planning an act of suicide, which may or may not lead to a suicide attempt.

Suicide: a conscious and deliberate act by a person, with the intent of ending his or her own life; in attempted suicide there is an intent to end one's own life but the attempt is not fatal.


Universal intervention: a program or approach that promotes the mental health and wellbeing of everyone in the group or community, rather than just a particular individual or group, e.g. a whole school program to prevent bullying or to promote resilience.


Warning sign: a sign which others might notice that indicates a person may actually have a mental health problem or illness, or be thinking about suicide; this is different from a risk factor, which increases the chances of the illness or suicidal behaviour occurring.

Whole school approach: an approach to health promotion which looks at all the different aspects of a school, such as the curriculum, teaching style, classroom climate, school culture, student participation, physical environment, partnerships with the community, welfare services and the wellbeing of staff.


Youth suicide: Suicide among young people. The Australian Bureau of Statistics releases information in year groups for those aged 15 to 24 - this is often termed youth suicide, but rates are lower in school-aged young people than in those aged 19 to 24.