Background: The large treatment gap for people suffering from mental disorders has led to initiatives to scale up mental health services. In order to track progress, estimates of programme coverage, and changes in coverage over time, are needed.
Methods: Systematic review of mental health programme evaluations that assess coverage, measured either as the proportion of the target population in contact with services (contact coverage) or as the proportion of the target population who receive appropriate and effective care (effective coverage). We performed a search of electronic databases and grey literature up to March 2013 and contacted experts in the field. Methods to estimate the numerator (service utilization) and the denominator (target population) were reviewed to explore methods which could be used in programme evaluations.
Results: We identified 15 735 unique records of which only seven met the inclusion criteria. All studies reported contact coverage. No study explicitly measured effective coverage, but it was possible to estimate this for one study. In six studies the numerator of coverage, service utilization, was estimated using routine clinical information, whereas one study used a national community survey. The methods for estimating the denominator, the population in need of services, were more varied and included national prevalence surveys case registers, and estimates from the literature.
Conclusions: Very few coverage estimates are available. Coverage could be estimated at low cost by combining routine programme data with population prevalence estimates from national surveys.
Keywords: evaluation; mental health; programme coverage; systematic review.