The Royal Collegeof Psychiatrists and Central and North West London NHS Trust have launched newguidance to encourage mental health patients and service users to registerto vote and get their voice heard in the forthcoming General Election. Thisfollows research which found that in the 2010 election, mental health patientswere half as likely to be registered to vote as the general population.
Mental healthpatients, including those detained under the Mental Health Act, have the sameright to vote as the general population. However, in practice they remain oneof the most disenfranchised groups. A lack of information and understandingknowledge of their eligibility to vote or of the registration process lead tovoting turnout being as low as 14% in 2010 – a quarter of the turnout of thegeneral population.
The guidance,launched this week, will be disseminated to all Mental Health Trusts and NHSMedical Directors and provides information on who is eligible to vote, howpatients can register to vote, and how they can cast their vote, including bypost or by proxy.
Professor SirSimon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said:
“Mental healthhas never been higher on the political agenda. But while much progress has beenmade in improving access to treatment and tackling the stigma around mentalhealth, it is unacceptable that mental health patients are one of our mostpolitically disenfranchised groups.
“Voting givespeople a political voice and allows them to exert political pressure. A vote inthis context is more than a choice of party or candidate; it is a motivationfor politicians to understand and support issues relevant to those with mentalillness.
“It isunacceptable that nine out of ten of those who did not register to vote in 2010were unaware either that they could even vote, or indeed how to go about theregistration process. I am therefore delighted that this new guidance is beingsent to all Mental Health Trusts to increase the knowledge on voting rightsamongst mental health professionals and empower patients to exercise theirdemocratic rights and get their voices heard.”
ClaireMurdoch, Chief Executive Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust said:
“The right tovote is considered the hallmark of a civilized society. It is afundamental right of individuals and something we are both proud of and rightlydefend. It is clear that often people with mental health problemsdo not exercise their democratic right to vote and I am proud thatcolleagues at CNWL have worked on a way of tackling this inequality. Please do all you can to engage with service users to help them understand andexercise their right to vote if this is what they want to do. It’simportant so please act now.”
Download the guidance here: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/RCPsych%20guidance%20on%20voting%20rights%20for%20in-patients.pdf