There has been a rush towards community psychiatry in the developed world in the past few decades (Tyrer, 1998a). In developing countries the concept has been equally popular and various programmes have been described (Burns, 1998; Goldberg, 1992; Issac, 1996). The term ‘community psychiatry’ originates from a peculiar historical background, is based on certain principles and is shaped by the existing pattern of mental health services in many Western countries. Although the term is vague, its application is especially problematic in developing countries. In this article an attempt will be made to highlight the origins of the term community psychiatry and its application in developing countries.