This paper presents data obtained in a one-day census investigation in five European countries (Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia). The census forms were filled in for 4191 psychiatric inpatients. Concerning legal status, 11.2% were hospitalised against their will (committed) and 21.4% were treated in a ward with locked doors. There was only a small correlation between commitment and treatment in a locked ward. More frequent than treatment of committed patients in locked wards was treatment of committed patients in open wards (Austria, Hungary) and treatment of voluntary patients in closed wards (Slovakia, Slovenia). Concerning employment, 27.7% of patients aged 18–60 held a job before admission. The vast majority of patients (84.8%) had a length of stay of less than 3 months. A comparison of these data with the results of a study performed in 1996 and using the same method shows a decrease of rates of long-stay patients. In 1996 the rates of employment were significantly higher in Romania (39.3%) and Slovakia (42.5%) compared to Austria (30.7%). These differences disappeared in 1999 due to decreasing rates of employment in Romania and Slovakia. The numbers of mental health personnel varies between types of institution (university or non-university) and countries, being highest in Austria and lowest in Romania. A considerable increase in the numbers of staff was found in Slovakia.