Background Previous research suggests that many people receiving mental health treatment do not meet criteria for a mental disorder but are rather the worried well'. Aims To examine the association of past-year mental health treatment with DSM-IV disorders. Method The World Health Organization's World Mental Health (WMH) Surveys interviewed community samples of adults in 23 countries (n = 62 305) about DSM-IV disorders and treatment in the past 12 months for problems with emotions, alcohol or drugs. Results Roughly half (52\%) of people who received treatment met criteria for a past-year DSM-IV disorder, an additional 18\% for a lifetime disorder and an additional 13\% for other indicators of need (multiple subthreshold disorders, recent stressors or suicidal behaviours). Dose-response associations were found between number of indicators of need and treatment. Conclusions The vast majority of treatment in the WMH countries goes to patients with mental disorders or other problems expected to benefit from treatment.