The planning of health services consists of a process that generally involves the following steps: (a) situational analysis, or the description, definition and statement of the problem, its characteristics and dimensions in relation to population and time; (b) the formulation of alternative tactical approaches to the handling and solution of the problem; (c) decision analysis or the selection of a plan; (d) discussion and implementation of the plan selected; (e) evaluation of the results achieved in relation to the problem, situations or populations concerned. This paper discusses the content of a programme of mental health services research for collecting and analysing the information needed to apply these processes to the planning of mental health services, monitoring the manner in which the plan is being implemented, and assessing its effectiveness in achieving short-term and intermediate objectives and long-term goals.
Statistical and epidemiological information play an important role in these processes, particularly in the situational analysis and the evaluation processes. Illustrations have been provided of types of data that are produced in the national mental health statistics programme in the United States. Difficulties in using such data to answer questions concerning the needs for mental health services, and manpower requirements for delivering services to meet these needs are discussed. In many instances, currently available data are quite inadequate for answering key issues such as these, plus others related to living arrangements of the population, the effect of services on the persons who receive them, their families and the communities in which they live. Thus, much still remains to be done to develop systematic, comparative morbidity statistics on the incidence, duration and prevalence of mental disorders in the general population, on the needs for mental health services, and on the effectiveness of our efforts to prevent disorders that can be prevented, and to reduce the amount of disability and distress caused by those that cannot be prevented or terminated.
A series of problems have been identified, the solutions to which would assist materially in providing data that would narrow gaps between available knowledge and that which is needed. The importance of establishing well-staffed research units at the catchment area level with stable funding to accomplish this is underscored. It is a matter of the greatest urgency that adequate resources - financial, manpower, scientific and administrative - be made available to solve these problems. If this is not done, then efforts to document quantitatively the effectiveness of programmes to prevent and control mental disorders will continue to suffer from many of the same shortcomings that have impeded our past and continue to impede current efforts to accomplish this.