Chapters poster

Download your Mental Health Rights Manual poster here

Terminology and focus

print-text Print this section

The Mental Health Coordinating Council acknowledges the wide range of language and terminology used in the mental health and disability fields and endeavours throughout this Manual to be sensitive to its usage. However, there are sections where specific terms need to be used because they have a particular meaning in the context of the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW).

In general, throughout this Manual we use the term “mental illness” in reference to a person who is subject to the terms of the Mental Health Act 2007(NSW) or the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 (NSW). Elsewhere we use the term “mental health condition” as a broad term of reference for people who have some form of ‘psychiatric condition’. We also use the term where it has been used in policy, standards and guidelines and by services describing their programs, etc. We use the term “psychosocial disability” in some contexts to refer to persons with mental health conditions who experience difficulty in their interactions with the social environment because of the barriers to their equal participation in society that exist in that environment.

The purpose of the 4th Edition is to bring together in one resource the diverse set of mechanisms, services and systems supporting people with mental health conditions, their families, carers and others, including the workforce across those service systems. It includes the interrelated issues to do with treatment and health care rights, disability support rights and the participatory and civil rights of people with mental health conditions to fully take part in society as parents, employees, community members and leaders.

However, whilst the Mental Health Coordinating Council takes a leadership role in promoting legislative reform and policy development in other spheres, this Manual does not seek in any way to advocate around the law, it merely informs on the status of the law as its stands, presenting realistic ways in which people can exert their rights and meet their obligations.

The Mental Health Coordinating Council is committed to ongoing communication with government agencies about the efficacy and outcomes of legislation and policies currently in place with regards to mental health and co-existing conditions. Its discussions with members and with government are published regularly in policy and position statements and submissions that are freely available through the Mental Health Coordinating Council’s website at:

To uphold human rights requires more than legislation. It requires that people with mental health conditions, their families and carers know their rights, and that the workforce is adequately informed and educated about rights and the relevant codes of ethics and practice, standards and quality improvement systems. All such systems need to be supported so that working cultures in human services support trauma-informed, recovery-oriented practice, prioritising the need for people with mental health conditions to be involved as much as possible in decision-making about their care and treatment plans, as well as being meaningfully involved in the development of policy and service delivery models.Services that nurture an inclusive society able to respond to people when they are at their most vulnerable, can provide opportunities for people to contribute at all levels in the community.

Some people with mental health conditions may at some stage find themselves in hospital, either voluntarily or involuntarily, and so may come into contact with treatment orders under the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW). When this occurs they will be considered a person either with a ‘mental illness’, or a ‘mental disorder’ under the Act. A simplified overview of the Act is provided so that people dealt with under the Act during the course of their illness may better understand their rights and responsibilities and how to maximise their autonomy within the system.

A Mental Health Act 2007 Guidebook which provides practical information to mental health practitioners, as well as those who provide support and advice to persons and carers is being updated. Once completed the Guidebook will be available through the NSW Ministry of Health website.

The Mental Health Coordinating Council strives to contribute to a system in which the status, independence and human rights of people with mental health conditions, families and carers is advanced. Its aim is to promote the recovery and return to active participation in the community for all people with lived experience of mental health conditions.

Updated August 31, 2015