The apparently large genetic contribution to the aetiology of mental illness presents a formidable puzzle. Unlike common physical disorders, mental illness usually has an onset early in the reproductive age and is associated with substantial reproductive disadvantage. Therefore, genetic variants associated with vulnerability to mental illness should be under strong negative selection pressure and be eliminated from the genetic pool through natural selection. Still, mental disorders are common and twin studies indicate a strong genetic contribution to their aetiology. Several theories have been advanced to explain the paradox of high heritability and reproductive disadvantage associated with the same common phenotype, but none provides a satisfactory explanation for all types of mental illness. At the same time, identification of the molecular substrate underlying the large genetic contribution to the aetiology of mental illness is proving more difficult than expected. The quest for genetic variants associated with vulnerability to mental illness is predicated upon the common disease/common variant (CDCV) hypothesis. On the basis of a summary of evidence, it is concluded that the CDCV hypothesis is untenable for most types of mental illness. An alternative evolution-informed framework is proposed, which suggests that gene-environment interactions and rare genetic variants constitute most of the genetic contribution to mental illness. Common mental illness with mild reproductive disadvantage is likely to have a large contribution from interactions between common genetic variants and environmental exposures. Severe mental illness that confers strong reproductive disadvantage is likely to have a large and pleiotropic contribution from rare variants of recent origin. This framework points to a need for a paradigm change in genetic research to enable major progress in elucidating the aetiology of mental illness.