The lived experience of mental health is the association of events in one's past to influence one's experience of living with, rehabilitating from or recovering from one's mental health condition. A person with the lived experience of mental health has used and/or is using mental health programs or services. Many factors lead to one's lived experience of mental health including:

  • Family History

  • Pregnancy, Birth Conditions & Birth Traumas

  • Cultural Background

  • History of Physical Health

  • Psychiatric History

  • History of Trauma, Violence &/or Aggression

  • History of Psychosis

  • History of Mental Distress, Vulnerabilities or Neglect

  • History of Disability

  • Previous Living Arrangements

  • Significant Life Events or Crisis 

  • Educational History

  • Employment History

  • Childhood Memories & Past Relationships

  • Previous use of drugs, alcohol & or Addiction

  • Previous Self-harm

  • Marital History

  • History of Intimate Relationships

  • Relationships with Sibling or Children

  • Criminal History

In the mental health sector, there is a growing movement of people sharing their lived experience providing a unique perspective, as people with the lived experience have experience of using the system, have usually done some thinking about this and know other people using the system.

The Lived Experience of Mental Health

Family History

Family History plays an important part of mental health conditions. Every generation, families pass a piece of themselves to their kin through stories, culture, knowledge, and belongings; insidious traits are passed through generations (such as a genetic predisposition to addiction and unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving). Research has proven that mental can health run in families due to a number of reasons. These include:

•    Inherited predispositions (genetics/hereditary)
•    Family behavioural traits, strengths and weaknesses
•    Family and emotional relationships
•    How the family members interact with one another
•    Number of siblings in the family and birth order
•    The gender and sexuality of parents
•    Lifespan of ancestors 

PREGNANCY, Birth Conditions & Birth Traumas

The conditions at a child’s birth and a baby’s experiences in utero can influence the development of mental illness later on in life. Early-life events cause distress to both the mother and baby, significantly increasing the risk of mental illness. 


  • Post-natal depression

  • Sickness (e.g. flu) during pregnancy

  • Maternal iron deficiency  

  • An undernourished mother while pregnant 

  • Infections and toxin exposure before birt

  • Baby strangled by umbilical cord

  • Maternal distress following an unusually long labour

  • Painful forced delivery

  • Newborn being removed from the mother for emergency treatment

One’s cultural background plays an important role in shaping the lived experience of mental health. 

  •  Indigenous Background (e.g. an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander)

  • Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Background

  • Experience of Immigration 

  • Nationality, Ethnic Background & 
    Country of Birth 

  • Primary and Secondary Languages

  • Translational Issues

  • Refugee or asylum seeker 

  • Displacement 

  • Ethnocultural beliefs

  • Cultural misunderstandings and stigma

  • Racism & Discrimination 


Cultural Background

Physical Health History

People with the lived experience of mental health often have coinciding physical conditions and Illnesses that has left them with varying degrees of co-morbidity. Physical health contributes to mental illness due to the symptoms of the illness, the side-effects of medication, lifestyle factors and a lack of self-care. 

  • Medical History

  • Medication/Supplement History

  • Previous hospitalisations & discharge information

  • Pathology History

  • Previous Surgery

  • Physical Disability

  • Sensory Disability (such as deafness and blindness)

  • Speech Impairments and Impediments

  • History of physical illnesses & psychosomatic symptoms

  • Medical Conditions

  • Allergies & Other Reactions

Psychiatric History

The severity and intensity of one’s principle psychiatric diagnosis is important in determining the care and support that an individual with the lived experience will receive. The major diagnoses that influence the care and support an individual receives.

  • Alcohol abuse

  • Substance abuse and psychoactive drug use

  • Gambling and Other Addictions

  • Anxiety Disorders

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  • Hoarding and Squalor Disorders

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Eating Disorders: anorexia, bulimia

  • Psychotic Disorders : schizophrenia, schizoid-affective disorder, delusional disorders & personality disorders

  • Affective Disorders: depression, bipolar disorder and post-natal depression

  • Psychological Development disorders

  • Behavioural disorders

  • Emotional disorders

  • Dual Diagnosis

Mental & Cognitive Impairments

There is a huge overlap of mental health & cognitive impairments, with cognitive impairments presenting across the domains of attention, memory, planning, organisation, reasoning and problem solving including paying attention, remembering and recalling information, processing information, responding to information, thinking critically, planning, problem solving, sustaining attention and coordinating eye-hand movement. These affect daily functioning in all aspects of life including work, self-care, independent living & leisure pursuits.

  • Mental retardation

  • Intellectual Disabilities

  • Cognitive Disabilities

  • Acquired Brain Injuries

  • Alzheimer Disorders & Dementia

A history of trauma influences ones lived experience as they are shocking and distressing event in which one has experienced an event directly, or are strongly affected by seeing it happening to someone else. Whatever the traumatic experience, it can seem like you’ll never get over what happened.

  • Physical Trauma, Accident &/or Injury

  • Significant life event

  • Family history of suicide

  • History of suicide plans, intentions, ideations and attempts

  • History of self-harming behaviours

  • Birth Traumas

  • History of Separation

  • The impact of significant life events

  • History of childhood abuse or maladjustment

  • History of sexual trauma & rape

  • Torture 

  • Natural Disaster

  • Experience of violence or sexual assault

  • Domestic Violence

  • Rape

  • War or Torture

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

History of Trauma

History of Violence And/or Aggression

A history of violence or aggression may influence many areas of life including one's interaction in the workplace, at home, in sports performances and in general public areas. A person in an abusive relationship for example may fear further repercussions and feel unable to leave the relationship, thus potentially subjecting him or herself to further harm. A breakdown in coping skills can often contribute to aggressive or violent behavior and affect the way one deals with their mental health.

  • Criminal history

  • Previous incidents of violence

  • Previous incidents of domestic violence

  • Previous use of or access to weapons

  • History of dangerous or violent ideations

  • Previous intentions to harm other

  • History of exploitation and abuse

  • Antisocial behaviour

  • Narcistic personality disorder

  • Passive aggression or violence

Psychotic History

 Psychosis (also called a psychotic experience or psychotic episode) is when you perceive or interpret reality in a very different way from people around you. You might be said to 'lose touch' with reality. A history of psychotic symptoms can play a huge role in shaping one’s current situation, leaving an individual extremely vulnerable to future mental health condition, especially when they have had a reduce ability to control their behaviour. Psychosis causes people to misinterpret or confuse what is going on around them.

  • Hallucinations

  • Delusional beliefs

  • Schizophrenia

  • Psychotic Disorders

Mental Vulnerabilities

Mental vulnerability occur hen one’s mental health needs are being ignored, placing a strain on one’s lived experiences of mental health. Various situations may make an individual vulnerable to mental health.

  • Lack of daytime activities or active role

  • Geographic and social isolation

  • Loneliness

  • History of hopelessness and despair

  • High levels of distress

  • Contact with vulnerable people

  • History of itinerant behaviour

  • History of financial vulnerability

  • History of harm to children

  • Vulnerability to sexual exploitation and abuse

  • Self-neglect and poor-self care

  • Non-adherence to treatment

  • Widowed or divorced

One's education has the potential to influence one's mental health by providing knowledge and awareness that can help them cope with their mental health and enhance their employability, income and life skills.

  • Schooling

  • Schools Certificate

  • Higher Schools Certificate

  • Vocational Education (e.g. TAFE)

  • Undergraduate Degree (e.g University)

  • Post-Graduate Degree (e.g. masters, honours and PhD)

  • Community Colleges

  • Life Skills

  • Resume Writing Skills

Educational History

Employment History

One’s employment history plays a huge role in influencing an individual’s lived experience of mental health. One’s employment history includes an individual’s history of working, volunteering & receiving benefits from a number of sources.

  • Qualifications

  • Full-time jobs

  • Part-time jobs

  • Casual jobs

  • Time share jobs

  • Disability Support Pensions

  • New-Start Allowance

  • Rental Subsidy

  • Student Allowance

Living Arrangements

One’s accommodation and tenure type has a huge impact on one’s lived experience of mental health. One’s living arrangements may the opportunities and benefits they can receive. 

  • Homelessness

  • Couch Surface

  • Rental History

  • Owning Property (including investment properties)

  • Living in a Group Home

  • Living in a Nursing Home

  • Living in a Caravan Park

  • Temporary Accommodation


Relationships greatly affect one’s lived experience of mental health. Relationships may include one's family and kinship arrangements​, one's marital history, history of intimate relationships, relationship with siblings and one's relationship with their children

  • Nuclear family

  • Single parent household

  • Extended family set up

  • Step family

  • Grandparent family

  • Childless family

  • Tribe

  • Homosexual relationship.

  • Married

  • Divorced

  • Widowed

  • De-facto

  • In a relationship but unmarried

  • Single 

  • Intimate Relationships

  • Relationship with Siblings

  • Relationship with Children

  • Foster children

  • Adopted children

  • Access or lack or partial access to dependents has a huge effect on one’s lived experience of mental health

Whether one is being looked after by a carer, family member, friend or relative or whether family law orders, custody orders, foster care arrangement or court order are in place, one’s caring relationship greatly influences one’s lived experience of mental health. There are many services out there to help carers cope with their own mental health and the mental health of the people they are caring for explore to strengthen the mental health caring role, develop knowledge, improve skills, offer support to reduce isolation and enhance the caring journey..

  • Carers advocates

  • Carers respite

  • Supported Decision Making

  • Carers Advocacy Groups

  • Carer Peak Bodies

  • Young Carers

CAring Arrangements

Gender & SExual Identity

One’s personal experience gender and identity correlates to one’s social identity around being male or female, beliefs related to masculinity and femininity and all other aspects associated with sexual preference and gender expression. One's gender and sexual identity may lead to a range of stressful experiences that contribute to their increased risk of depression, anxiety, self harm and suicide. 

  • Gender identity of male and female  

  • Transgender Identity

  • Gender Dysphoria

  • Gender Identity Disorder (or GID) 

  • Sexuality (LGBTI)

  • Heterosexuals

  • Gay and lesbian 

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