Glossary for families

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A person aged 13–17 years. The terms teenager and young person may also be used to describe an adolescent person.

Adult mental health service
An organisation that focuses on treating and supporting adults with diagnosed mental health difficulties. Refer also to Child and adolescent mental health service; Mental health service

A state of hardship, difficulty or misfortune that negatively impacts daily life.

The term Anglo-Celtic generally refers to people or cultural practices that are associated with the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic peoples, who have historical roots in the British Isles. The term is often used to describe people of white European descent who are native English speakers and have a cultural heritage that is primarily derived from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. (Source: Rahim, R. A., Pilkington, R., D’Onise, K., & Lynch, J. [2020])

Anxiety is an emotional and physical response to stress. Common bodily responses include a pounding heart, rapid breathing, butterflies in the stomach and a burst of energy. Anxiety is a natural and usually short-lived reaction to a stressful situation, associated with feelings of worry, nervousness, or apprehension.

For some people however, anxious thoughts, feelings, or physical symptoms are severe, upsetting, frequent, and interrupt daily life. If this happens it is important to seek help as early as you can.


Birthing parent
A term used to describe all who give birth, including women, transgender men and nonbinary people.


Describes the act of feeding your baby milk from your chest. Chestfeeding may be used as a way for transgender and nonbinary parents to describe how they feed and nurture their babies after childbirth by feeding them milk from their chest. It can also refer to using a feeding tube attached to the nipple to feed a baby if lactation (milk secretion from the nipples) is not possible.

A person aged 0–12 years.

Child abuse
Harm to a child caused by a parent or other caregiver. The harm may be physical (violence), sexual (violation or exploitation), psychological (causing emotional distress), or neglect (failure to provide needed care) (Source: American Psychological Association).

Child and adolescent mental health services
An organisation that focuses on treating and supporting children and adolescents with diagnosed mental health difficulties. Refer also to Adult mental health service; Mental health service

Continuum (i.e. Mental health continuum/Wellbeing continuum)
A continuum is a range with no clear boundaries between different points. A child’s mental health or wellbeing continuum has positive, or good, mental health at one end, and mental health difficulties that significantly impact on a child’s daily life and wellbeing at the other. There are several different continuum models that use different terms and symbols to show the range of children’s mental health experiences.

Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)
Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) is a broad term used to describe communities with diverse languages, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, traditions, societal structures and religions, and whose ancestry is other than Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or Anglo-Celtic. (Sources: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; Joshi, A., & Gartoulla, P. [2022])


A mental health disorder characterised by ongoing low mood or loss of interest in activities (for at least two weeks), causing significant difficulties in daily life.

The process of determining which disease or condition explains a person’s symptoms and signs of illness, as identified by a health care professional.

A total or partial loss of one or more bodily or mental functions. Disability may be something a person is born with or develops due to family heritage (genetics), accident or acquired illness. There are various types of disability, which may be visible or hidden, permanent or temporary, and vary in how they impact a person’s daily life.

A disturbance in physical or mental health functioning.


Early childhood
The first five years of childhood, with the first two to three years identified as an especially significant period of development.

Early childhood education and care (ECEC)
An umbrella term used to refer to all the different services offered to children prior to school attendance in Australia. These include childcare, preschool, long day care, creche, family day care, kinder and others. See also Early learning service.

Early learning service (ELS)
Services that provide regular full-time or part-time care and education for children from birth to five years of age. Also known as early childhood services. See also Early childhood education and care.

A person who provides instruction or education in early childhood, primary or secondary settings; includes teachers.

Emotional regulation
Refer to self-regulation.


There is wide variation in the make up of Australian families, which can include combinations of mothers, fathers, non-binary parents, grandparents, and non-biologically related parents and carers; siblings including half, step and foster siblings; and extended family members.

Family and domestic violence (FDV)
Family violence refers to violence between family members, including current and former intimate partners, parents and children, siblings, and others. Usually, one or more people will try to exert power and control over a family member/s through fear of physical, sexual, emotional, social, verbal, spiritual and economic forms of abuse.

Domestic violence refers to violence between current and former intimate partners.

Family violence is often the preferred term of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to describe domestic violence because it covers extended family and kinship relationships.


General Practitioner (GP)
A GP is a medical doctor who treats people (or refers them for treatment) for a wide range of medical conditions and health issues. They are often the first point of contact for anyone who feels sick or has a health concern.

Watch What is a GP?

Global majority
Global majority is a collective term for non-white people of African, Asian, Latin American and Arab descent; Indigenous people; plus people and groups who don’t experience white privilege. These people make up approximately 85% of the global population. ‘Global majority’ has been used as an alternative to terms that centre whiteness such as ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ or ‘ethnic minority’.

For further explanation, read Who are people of the global majority and why it matters.


An inclusive term for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual or otherwise sexually or gender diverse.


Meaning-making (children)
The process that all children undertake in making sense of the important events in their lives.

Meaning-making (families)
Meaning making in families is about how children and parents create shared stories and understandings to make sense of their experiences and relationships together. It’s like building a common language and set of beliefs through talking, doing things together, and figuring out what matters to everyone.

Medicare is a national insurance scheme that provides free or subsidised healthcare for Australians, known as Medicare benefits and sometimes referred to as rebates.

Mental health
This is a state of wellbeing in which ‘people can realise their potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their communities’ (source: World Health Organization [WHO]).

Mental health service
An organisation with a focus on providing treatment, recovery or community health support for people with a diagnosed mental illness or other associated illness. Refer also to Adult mental health service; Child and adolescent mental health service

Mental illness
A wide range of diagnosed conditions that affect a person’s mood, thinking and behaviour.

Mental Health Nurse
Mental health nurses are registered nurses with specialist qualifications in mental health.


Neurodivergent is a way of describing a person whose brain develops or works different for some reason. Their ways of thinking, and seeing and interacting with the world around them, are significantly different from what is considered ‘typical’. Differences are not necessarily disabilities.

Neurodivergence includes:
• autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
• attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia
• Tourette’s syndrome
• other neurological differences.

Neurotypical is a way of describing a person who thinks and processes information in a similar way to others their age within their culture. They tend to develop and learn skills around the same time as their peers.


A parent is the primary adult caregiver of a child. In some instances, the term ‘parent’ may incorporate adult carers who are not the biological parents of the child but who have taken on a primary caregiving role such as grandparents, foster carers and kinship carers.

Raising a child with protection and care through promotion and support of their physical, emotional, social and intellectual development from infancy to adulthood.

Regular, carer-supervised meetings of groups of preschool children that provide developmentally appropriate creative and social play opportunities for children to develop their social and support networks. The two main kinds of playgroup are:

  1. community playgroups, which aim to include all families; and
  2. supported playgroups, which aim to support children and/or families with particular needs or vulnerabilities that are run by at least one paid organiser.

Postnatal depression
A form of depression that parents may experience in the weeks or months following childbirth. Symptoms can include feeling overwhelmed, sadness, crying and trouble sleeping, and if left untreated may interfere with their daily life and ability to care for and enjoy their baby.

Professional support
A health professional who can help a person to work out what’s going on, what they’re feeling and what might support they might need to manage their health difficulties in daily life.

A psychiatrist is a specialist medical doctor who assesses and treats patients with mental health difficulties, including medication in some circumstances. Referral (such as from a GP) is required to see a psychiatrist.

Psychologists study the human mind and human behaviour to understand how people, communities and societies think, feel, behave and learn. Armed with this understanding they work with people to empower them, help them thrive and support their mental health.

Learn more about psychologists in the videos:

Psychological First Aid
Involves providing psychosocial support to help people affected by an emergency, disaster or traumatic event to reduce distress immediately afterwards and help them cope moving forward.

Psychological wellbeing
Refers to the ability to understand yourself and your behaviours, cope with life’s challenges, and recognise and express your positive and negative feelings in a productive way. By developing self-acceptance and social skills, and having a sense of control over our environment and circumstances, we gain a realistic and therefore positive view of life, others and ourselves. Refer also to Social and emotional wellbeing.

Describes how social, cultural and environmental factors interact and influence the human mind and behaviour (i.e. a person’s psychology).


Refer to self-regulation/emotional regulation.

Resilience is the ability to do well during or after an adverse event, or period of adversity. The single most important factor for developing resilience in children is the presence of at least one committed and supportive relationship with a parent, caregiver or other trusted adult.

The things you usually do, and the general timeframe in which they are done, in the course of day-to-day life.


School counsellor
School counsellors guide students through learning and behavioural issues, and relationships with family, teachers and peers, either one-on-one or in a group setting. They also provide crisis support, course and career counselling and referrals to support services outside of school where required.

Watch What is a school counsellor?

Self-esteem is the way you think and feel about yourself. It can change over time, depending on the world around you and how you make meaning of your experiences. For example, other peoples’ opinions (real or imagined), the value you place on external achievements and material objects, and comparing yourself with others can all affect your self-esteem. Low self-esteem can be associated with mental health difficulties.

Self-regulation/emotional regulation
Self-regulation is the ability to manage our thoughts, feelings and behaviours in ways that help us to function day-to-day and achieve our goals. Building self-regulation skills, particularly early in life, lays the foundation for children’s positive social and emotional development.

Self-worth is your opinion of yourself. It tends to be more consistent over time than self-esteem and is less dependent on outside factors. Self-worth is how you think and feel about your identity and value as a person (e.g. that you deserve respect, self-compassion and kindness). Positive self-worth can help to support your mental health during difficult times.

Describes something you feel or perceive with the physical senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing and sight.

Separation anxiety
Where a child becomes excessively anxious or upset when separated from their parents.

Sleep hygiene
A recommended program of habits and behaviours, and an ideal environment for refreshing and healthy sleep.

Social and emotional wellbeing (SEW)
Social and emotional wellbeing refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. It incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths and is a facet of child development (source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).

In broad terms, social and emotional wellbeing is the foundation for physical and mental health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a holistic concept which results from a network of relationships between individuals, family, kin and Community. It also recognises the importance of connection to Land, culture, spirituality and ancestry, and how these affect the individual (source: Commonwealth of Australia).

‘Social and emotional wellbeing’ is also used by some people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, who may have differing concepts of mental health and mental illness (source: Refer also to Psychological wellbeing.

Refer to trigger.

Personal qualities or conditions of an individual, family, community or society that reduce risk or adversity and promote mental health.

Substance abuse
Excessive use of psychoactive drugs, such as alcohol, pain medications or illegal drugs. It that can lead to physical, social or emotional harm.

Support group/network
A group of people who meet to share information, experiences, problems and solutions, and by doing so provided group members with support.


Temperament is the combination of mental, physical and emotional characteristics we are born with that shape how we naturally react and behave.

An event that is so distressing or disturbing it affects a person’s ability to come to terms with that event. Traumatic experiences can be single incidents (e.g. a car accident) or ongoing experiences (e.g. chronic neglect).

Sometimes referred to as a stressor, a trigger is an action or situation that can lead to an adverse (negative) emotional reaction. In the context of mental illness, triggers usually refer to something that has brought on or worsened symptoms.


The recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid and worthwhile.

Attributes or conditions at the individual, family or social levels which increase the possibility that a child will experience adversity, including mental health difficulties.


Young carer
A child or young person who provides care to another family member, usually a parent who:

  • has a physical illness or disability
  • experiences mental health difficulties
  • is abusing substances, or
  • is frail.

Young person
Refer to adolescent.

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