Background: Adolescents and young adults have a high incidence and prevalence of mental disorders, which can be disabling, chronic and lead to the development of further mental health problems. Yet their needs are not being adequately met by existing health structures. We set out to examine the extent of met and unmet need in young people by assessing referrals to a public mental health service for 15 ? 24 year olds. We sought to identify differences between young people who were accepted into the service and those who were not with respect to psychiatric diagnosis, subthreshold symptoms, and psychosocial functioning. Method: All young people aged 15 ? 24 years who were referred to the service from April to September 2003 for assistance with non-psychotic disorders were approached for assessment.