RESEARCH PROBLEM The readiness to use psychiatric services is, among other things, determined by the image of psychiatry held by the public. METHOD A representative survey of the adult population in the new German Länder was carried out, part of which was the assessment of what people associated with the term "psychiatry" and of their idea of a psychiatric hospital. RESULTS Psychiatric hospitals, in particular the large-scale mental institutions, shape the dominant image of psychiatry among the public. In this, the custodial or repressive character of psychiatry is the central constituent of the public's representation. DISCUSSION The chances that a positive change of the public's ideas toward more informed images and attitudes might be achieved appear to be slim as long large scale institutions, though with a new appearance, continue to exist.