The human body hosts an enormous abundance and diversity of microbes, which perform a range of essential and beneficial functions. Our appreciation of the importance of these microbial communities to many aspects of human physiology has grown dramatically in recent years. We know, for example, that animals raised in a germ-free environment exhibit substantially altered immune and metabolic function, while the disruption of commensal microbiota in humans is associated with the development of a growing number of diseases. Evidence is now emerging that, through interactions with the gut–brain axis, the bidirectional communication system between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract, the gut microbiome can also influence neural development, cognition and behaviour, with recent evidence that changes in behaviour alter gut microbiota composition, while modifications of the microbiome can induce depressive-like behaviours. Although an association between enteropathy and certain psychiatric conditions has long been recognized, it now appears that gut microbes represent direct mediators of psychopathology. Here, we examine roles of gut microbiome in shaping brain development and neurological function, and the mechanisms by which it can contribute to mental illness. Further, we discuss how the insight provided by this new and exciting field of research can inform care and provide a basis for the design of novel, microbiota-targeted, therapies.