ABSTRACT This study examined the sociodemographic correlates of pyschiatric illness in a primary care centre in Kuwait. A total of 164 psychiatric patients seen over a 3-year period formed the experimental group while 165 nonpsychiatric patients attending the same centre formed the control group. Results showed significant differences in basic demographic variables of the 2 groups. The psychiatric patients were significantly more likely to be single, unskilled, young, less educated and living alone or in an overcrowded household and to report more recent life events than controls. The absence of family and social support, lacking a meaningful job and chronicity of illness were significantly correlated with poor treatment response. Possible interpretations of the results were discussed in the cultural context of our patients. The fact that 57% of the psychiatric patients had been ill for more than 6 months prior to consultation highlights the importance of orientation of primary care practitioners to the psychiatric aetiology of somatic presentation of many of their patients.