Both psychiatric patients and their relatives benefit from learning about mental illness and how to cope with it, but the specific interests of these consumers remain unclear. To determine specific educational needs and to compare the needs of different consumers, a questionnaire survey was conducted with a sample of patients with schizophrenia and affective disorder and their relatives. Both patients and relatives reported strong interest in learning more about psychiatric illness and strategies for coping with common problems, but patients with schizophrenia were less interested than patients with affective disorder and both sets of relatives. Discriminant analyses revealed that needs differed as a function of patient diagnosis, patient/relative status, and relatives' membership of a self-help and advocacy organisation. Consumers of mental health services are capable of specifying their own educational needs, and educational programmes should be tailored to meet these.