OBJECTIVES: This study was conducted for the purpose of identifying the attitudes of laypersons towards the mentally ill. METHODS: From the end of January to the beginning of February of 1999, the 709 subjects who lived in Kwangju were surveyed with a questionnaire regarding their attitude towards mental illness. RESULTS: 1) On the question requiring the subjective definitions of a person with mental illness, the subjects described a person with mental illness is a pitiful and weak person who became mentally ill due to severe stress, mental shock, or hurts in mind. And they responded on psychological and social factors more than biological or genetic ones to the question asking the causes of mental illness. 2) Positive attitudes were shown in 76.4% of the subjects on the question of awareness and attitudes towards the mentally ill, while about the possibility of their marriage and living together in the community, quite negative attitude was shown. In addition, even though the subjects considered that mental illness could be cured, they had quite negative thoughts on the treatment effects in psychiatric hospitals, especially, the attitude towards the psychiatric hospitals was very negative. On the examination by groups, the group of subjects who had never experienced mental illness replied more negatively in almost all items than the group of subjects who had direct experiences. 3) Compared with previous studies, it appeared that the overall awareness of the mentally ill was changed in a quite positive direction than the 1970s'. CONCLUSION: Even though the attitude towards the mentally ill has changed in a positive direction, many people still have negative attitudes if it is related to and affect their lives directly. To change the attitudes and to reduce the prejudice and misunderstanding against the mentally ill, it may be helpful to let people make direct contact with the mentally ill, as well as to make efforts with systematic public education or with the media based upon the facts.