What does dependency on community mental health services mean? A conceptual review with a systematic search

  • Tommaso BonavigoEmail author
  • Sima Sandhu
  • Elisabetta Pascolo-Fabrici
  • Stefan Priebe



Although community mental health services aim to support patients’ autonomy and independence, they have repeatedly been criticised for making patients dependent. Yet, it remains often unclear what exactly is meant with dependency in this context. This review aimed to identify the meaning of the term dependency on community services in the literature.


A systematic search and conceptual review of papers where dependency is used in the context of community mental health services. Narrative synthesis was used to identify thematic concepts linked to dependency in these settings.


Fifteen papers met the inclusion criteria. The analysis identified five different concepts of dependency on community mental health services: dislocation from the outside world; inflexibility and lack of freedom; obligation as resentment or appreciation; living with or without meaningful activities; and security.


The findings suggest that, distinct from the exclusively negative connotation of the term dependency in a conventional medical context, dependency on community mental health services contains both negative and positive aspects. The different aspects might guide the future evaluation of the care provided in such services.


Dependency Community mental health services Mental disorder Deinstitutionalisation Review 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


No funding was sought for this review.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tommaso Bonavigo
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Sima Sandhu
    • 2
  • Elisabetta Pascolo-Fabrici
    • 1
  • Stefan Priebe
    • 2
  1. 1.Psychiatric ClinicUniversity of TriesteTriesteItaly
  2. 2.Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry, WHO Collaborating Centre for Mental Health Services DevelopmentQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK

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