This paper describes the user consultation component of a corporate approach to the mental health needs assessment of a local population. The context of the paper is established by presenting the views of users and user representatives on current mental health services. This is followed by the development of participants' views of an 'ideal' mental health service within the boundaries of technical feasibility. Three focus groups were held with current service users, and one group with user representatives. The users have extensive experience of a range of mental health services. The findings suggest that user representatives tend to represent their own needs rather than those of users. It would also seem that service users are not a homogeneous group, different groups having different priorities. Overall, users' views of current services generally reflect previous studies, but the 'ideal' approach seems to broaden the discussion and identify an agenda for change. This agenda is framed within categories of service delivery, service providers, labelling, advocacy, future research, leaving services, involvement, co-ordination, information, choice and accessibility. There is no clear role specifically identified for mental health nurses by users, but many opportunities are highlighted. Exploration of the utility of co-operative inquiry between mental health nurses and service users is recommended.