Background. Recent major epidemiological studies have adopted increasingly multidimensional approaches to assessment. Several of these have included some assessment of perceived need for mental health care. The Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, conducted in 1997, included a particularly detailed examination of this construct, with an instrument with demonstrated reliability and validity.
Methods. A clustered probability sample of 10641 Australians responded to the field questionnaire for this survey, including questions on perceived need either where there had been service utilization, or where a disorder was detected by administration of sections of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. The confidentialized unit record file generated from the survey was analysed for determinants of perceived need.
Results. Perceived need is increased in females, in people in the middle years of adulthood, and in those who have affective disorders or co-morbidity. Effects of diagnosis and disability can account for most of the differences in gender specific rates. With correction for these effects through regression, there is less perceived need for social interventions and possibly more for counselling in females; disability is confirmed as strongly positively associated with perceived need, as are the presence of affective disorders or co-morbidity.
Conclusions. The findings of this study underscore the imperative for mental health services to be attentive and responsive to consumer perceived need. The substantial majority of people who are significantly disabled by mental health problems are among those who see themselves as having such needs.