Morning and evening plasma cortisol levels were checked in 123 consecutively newly admitted psychiatric patients with a variety of diagnoses. Questions asked were whether there were differences among groups with more severe illness, type of depression, alcohol abuse, or particular symptoms. Morning cortisol elevation was found in 33% of patients and was not associated with any particular diagnostic category. Evening cortisol elevation occurred in 85% of the subjects. It was significantly higher in those with unipolar depression and organic brain syndrome, also in those patients who abused alcohol regardless of diagnosis. Evening cortisol elevation was twice as common in patients with diagnoses of more severe psychiatric illness than in those with minor disorders. Further study is suggested to see if these patterns of cortisol elevation are sustained beyond the stress-of-admission period.