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Keywords:

  • capacity;
  • human rights;
  • involuntary patients;
  • mental health;
  • recovery;
  • voting

Accessible summary

  • It helps people with mental illnesses to recover if they are not deprived of their rights of citizenship. The right to vote is an important marker of citizenship.
  • Ensuring citizenship through the right to vote is especially important when someone is committed under mental health legislation, yet it is unclear how and whether this occurs in practice.
  • This paper discusses what occurs for this population in Australia and overseas and reviews the role of capacity and supported decision making in the context of the right to vote.
  • Solutions are offered for how mental health practice can protect the interest that Australians with mental illnesses have in voting.

Abstract

A central feature of recovery-based practice for people with mental illness is that they are able to exercise rights and experience membership of a community. This notion of citizenship is especially important when someone has had rights removed after being committed under mental health legislation. The right to vote is a central marker of citizenship. Supporting a person's right to vote is important for recovery-based practice. In this paper, we review the issue of voting for people who have been committed under mental health legislation, why it matters for recovery, and what occurs from the Australian and international perspective. We briefly review the concepts of capacity and supported decision making in the context of the right to vote. We also consider the usefulness of the American ‘Doe Standard’, which has been used with the Competency Assessment Tool (CAT-V), to determine capacity to vote. Some solutions are offered that would protect the interest that Australians with mental illnesses have in voting.