AIMS AND METHOD Very little research has been undertaken to characterise the service user groups served by the voluntary sector mental health services in Britain. In view of the high reported cases of dissatisfaction with the statutory mental health services in the population of Caribbean origin in Britain, we sought to compare the male service users attending a voluntary sector service in Brixton, South London with those attending a service run by the mental health hospital for that catchment area. The service users and their case workers were interviewed and their case notes reviewed to obtain demographic information such as employment and forensic history and contact with other services. They were also assessed using the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) and the Camberwell Assessment of Need (CAN). RESULTS The service users attending the voluntary sector were significantly more disadvantaged in the areas of unemployment and contact with other health services particularly general practitioners. They had significantly lower scores on the GAF and had more unmet needs on the CAN, including numeracy and literacy skills. Both patient groups, however, reported problems with intimate relationships. CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS Service users attending voluntary sector services are likely to be more socially and materially deprived than their counterparts attending statutory services and specific strategies are required to assist these organisations in meeting the many needs of the service users.
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