OBJECTIVE: The present paper represents the second part of a larger review on the studies assessing needs for care in mental health field. In the first part, studies assessing needs for services in the general population were reviewed. In this second part studies assessing needs on individual level were reviewed and the role played by the assessment of individual needs in planning mental health care was discussed. METHODS: Studies published in international literature from January 1980 to June 1999 were reviewed. The studies were located through a computerised search of the databases MEDLINE and PsycLit; in addition, the reference lists of the studies located through the computerised search and the content of main international psychiatric journals were manually scanned in order to avoid possible omissions. Studies assessing needs in the general population and in psychiatric patients were reviewed separately. The latter were reviewed on the basis of the diagnostic category (psychotic and non psychotic patients) and setting of care (outpatients and inpatients). Studies on particular categories, such as homeless, children and adolescents, elderly and patients with aggressive behaviour, have been also reviewed. RESULTS: Psychotic patients show a wide range of both clinical and social needs. Patients followed by community-based mental health services show similar number of clinical and social needs, while inpatients (with the exception of acute patients) show more social needs. For both community-based mental health patients and inpatients, social needs are most frequently unmet and psychopharmacological treatments are used more frequently than psychotherapeutic or rehabilitative interventions. Non psychotic patients show lower number of needs than psychotic patients; these needs are both clinical and social, with a higher total number of clinical needs, but a higher number of unmet social needs. CONCLUSIONS: Studies on needs for care provide an interesting perspective on people suffering from mental illness. In the routine clinical practice needs assessment could be a valuable tool for providing specific, individualised and effective mental health care.
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