Background There is a supposed higher prevalence of common mental disorders among many migrant groups. At the same time, problems are reported regarding underutilisation of mental health services by migrants. Since perceived need for care is a powerful predictor of actual care utilisation, we aimed to study the hypothesis that, given the same level of mental morbidity, non-Western migrants would perceive less need for mental health care than ethnic Dutch residents. Additionally, we studied the extent to which needs are met in both groups, as well as several possible barriers to care. Methods A cross-sectional study with data from the 2004/2005 Amsterdam Health Monitor. Data were complete from 626 ethnic Dutch and non-Western (Turkish and Moroccan) labour migrants. Respondents participated in a structured interview in their own language, which included the perceived need for care questionnaire (PNCQ) and the composite international diagnostic interview (CIDI) version 2.1 for anxiety and depressive disorders. Results Perceived need was much higher among Turkish migrants. Among Moroccans the perceived need was comparable to ethnic Dutch. Turkish migrants also reported that needs were met less often than ethnic Dutch. Differences were explained by a higher prevalence of common mental disorders and higher symptom levels among Turkish. When differences in mental morbidity were taken into account, Moroccans perceived less need for information, drugs, referral to specialised mental health care, or for counselling. The most important barrier to care in all ethnic groups was the preference to solve the problem on one’s own. Conclusion In case of similar mental morbidity, perceived need for care was lower than among ethnic Dutch. The results did not support the hypothesis that in case of similar mental distress, needs of migrants were less often met than needs of ethnic Dutch
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