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How Does Mental Health Affect Voter Turnout?

We have a tendency in the US to treat mental illness with a great deal of unnecessary suspicion and fear. Unfortunately, this response has historically led to us making rash, ill-considered, damaging decisions. Our continued widespread refusal to rationally address the issue means that we continue to fail to make progress on providing sufficient support for those experiencing psychological difficulties. This is a baffling stance to take, given that one in four of us will be confronted with mental illness at some point in our lives.

Prejudice often results in impaired access to vital services, leading to serious disenfranchisement of those with mental or emotional difficulty. This extends to political and legislative arenas. The narrative on violence and gun control has utilized mentally illness as a scapegoat. While mental health reform is long overdue, it is misleading to suggest mass shootings are caused by mental illness. Such narratives serve to fuel stigma, and alienate those who need close community support.

Negative bias affects the ability of patients to vote. This is in effect a form of voter suppression, which must be addressed. Studies have shown that those with mental illnesses are more likely to make informed political decisions, and tend to vote for left-wing parties. We live in a time of great political uncertainty, and every vote is vital. We must examine how mental health can affect voter numbers, and what we can do to empower this demographic.

Legislative Stigma

Mental health stigma is informed by erroneous stereotypes of those who experience psychological illnesses. Despite a rise in campaigns to present a more accurate view, these inaccuracies perpetuate. This damaging approach has an insidious impact throughout our culture, from the mentally ill being demonized in horror movies to scapegoating when it comes to violent crime. But how does popular public opinion translate into an impact on voting?

Part of the issue is that stigma can affect the translation of mental competency. Decisions are made using the most extreme definitions of mental illness, rather than a more balanced approach. There are 39 states that have legislation in place restricting those with psychological conditions from voting if they are ruled to be mentally incompetent. Some states even still utilize stigmatizing language in this legislature, such as “idiots”, or “insane persons.” At times, people who are otherwise able to make well considered decisions are found to be mentally incapable of voting.

While stigma itself will not improve until the wider public becomes more educated on the subject, we can push for assessment standardization of mental capacity to vote. Such as those currently in place in California and Maryland. The criteria, promoted by the Bazelon Center and the American Bar Association, is straightforward. It asks simply whether the person is able to communicate a desire to vote. This provides equality with every other US citizen; if you can make a choice, you can vote.


Mental illness can present in a wide variety of forms, with each disorder involving symptoms of variable severity. Each individual tends to experience illness through a very personal lens, which is why treatment is nuanced by necessity. Some find psychiatric medication helpful, while others use alternative remedies such as CBD oil as part of their therapy. In serious cases, a period of hospitalization may be required in order to provide structured care. It is unfortunately the case that becoming an inpatient can have a detrimental affect voting.

Particularly in the case of unexpected hospitalization, the logistical processes to enable inpatients to vote can be complex. This can vary from state to state, but usually involves applying for an emergency ballot, a physician’s confirmation of the patient’s inability to attend the polls, this must then be notarized and approved by the city. Only then can the patient vote in absentia. Even for long-term patients, keeping up to date with voter registration and polling dates and may not be considered a priority during this difficult time in their lives.

The solution to this issue is usually one of providing patients with sufficient support and education. Provide them with guidance and information on how and where to register to vote in their local area. Make them aware of resources they can use to do so, such as free internet access in libraries. Initiatives like the Penn Votes Project can be effective, wherein medical students take responsibility to work with patients to ensure they are assisted through voting processes.

Living with Mental Illness

Simply navigating your daily tasks while experiencing symptoms of mental illness is difficult, and can take a lot of time to get used to — if it happens at all. Many patients are able to manage their mental health very well overall. However, there may be periods of unexpected crisis, followed by treatment, changes in prescription medication, and recovery. This can be exhausting, and overwhelming. It cannot be understated how mental illness can have a disruptive influence upon daily life. It should be no surprise that this can also affect the tendency to get out and vote.

A variety of illnesses, particularly mood disorders such as depression, negatively affect self-esteem and espouse a sense of apathy. This can affect patient’s ability to see how their actions can make a difference. Juggling between their symptoms and their daily duties, there’s often little motivation to vote. Yet, voting is considered a valuable action in recovery from mental illness. Helping patients engage with their citizenship and shape their communities is a vital tool in their ongoing treatment.

Having a personal connection in the support network can often be valuable in helping patients feel confident and empowered to make a difference. Family members of older adults with depression can check in regularly, offering support for day-to-day tasks that can become challenging. This simple act of compassion can be especially helpful on polling days, either by assisting them in getting to the booths, or even helping register for and mail in absentee ballots. By opening a dialogue, and providing encouragement, they may be more likely to enter into this holistically valuable mode of citizenship.


Voting is a key right, and one that those with mental illnesses are too often denied. Widespread stigma, inconsistency of assessments, and lack of information provision are all factors affecting voter numbers among the mentally ill. We must make concerted efforts to reassess our approach to legislation and support structures in order to make sure that experiencing an illness is no longer a barrier to asserting political will.

Posted by jhamilton at November 25, 2019 7:03 PM
Comment #451136
jhamilton wrote: Negative bias affects the ability of patients to vote. This is in effect a form of voter suppression, which must be addressed.
The problem with Democrats is that they define voter suppression as:
  • Voters must provide IDentification;
  • Voters must be a U.S. citizen;
  • Voters must not be deceased;
jhamilton wrote: Voting is a key right, and one that those with mental illnesses are too often denied.
Where’s the proof that people with mental illness are legally prevented from voting?
jhamilton wrote about bias above, and then writes: Studies have shown that those with mental illnesses are more likely to make informed political decisions, and tend to vote for left-wing parties.
LOL ! Speaking of bias. That comment implies that those with mental illness who vote left-wing are making an “informed political decision”?

How is it “informed” for anyone to vote for a politician or political party that does this today, and has a long history (155+ years) like this ?

I personally don’t care if mentally ill people choose to vote or not, because it’s miniscule compared to the tens of thousands (or more) voting illegally in U.S. elections.

In addition to that, 81% of people convicted of voter fraud are Democrats (based on the Voter Fraud database [1979 to 2018]).

Posted by: d.a.n at November 25, 2019 7:43 PM
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