Skip to main content


Log in

Voter participation among people attending mental health services in Ireland

  • Original Article
  • Published:
Irish Journal of Medical Science (1971 -) Aims and scope Submit manuscript



People with mental illness experience social and political exclusion but there is limited understanding of voting behaviour in this population.


This study assessed voter participation and attitudes towards voting among people attending mental health services in Dublin, Ireland.


Psychiatry outpatients and inpatients were studied over2 months following Ireland’s 2016 general election (n = 117). Characteristics of participants who did and did not vote were compared and reasons for voting choices explored.


Over half of participants (52.1%) voted (national rate 65.1%) although more (83.8%) were registered. Forty-one percent had insufficient information about voting: the most common information deficits related to voting rights (31.6%) and voting in hospital (18.8%). Inpatients (20.0%) were substantially less likely to vote than outpatients (63.2%). Majorities endorsed the importance of people with mental illness voting. The most common reasons for not voting were being in hospital (32.1%) and not being registered (30.4%).


Politicians should note that a majority of people with mental illness are outpatients and a significant proportion vote. Voting among inpatients has improved since 2011 but more information and support are needed to optimise voting rates in this population.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Kelly BD (2005) Structural violence and schizophrenia. Soc Sci Med 61:721–730

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Kelly BD (2014) Voting and mental illness: the silent constituency. Ir J Psychol Med 31:225–227

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Howard G, Anthony R (1977) The right to vote and voting patterns of hospitalized psychiatric patients. Psychiatr Q 49:124–132

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Nash M (2002) Voting as a means of social inclusion for people with a mental illness. J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs 9:697–703

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Bullenkamp J, Voges B (2004) Voting preferences of outpatients with chronic mental illness in Germany. Psychiatr Serv 55:1440–1442

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Jaychuk G, Manchanda R (1991) Psychiatric patients and the federal election. Can J Psychiatr 36:124–125

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Melamed Y, Doron A, Finkel B, Kurs R, Behrbalk P, Noam S, Gelkopf M, Bleich A (2007) Israeli psychiatric inpatients go to the polls. J Nerv Ment Dis 195:705–708

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Bhugra D, Pathare S, Gosavi C, Ventriglio A, Torales J, Castaldelli-Maia J, Tolentino EJL Jr, Ng R (2016) Mental illness and the right to vote: a review of legislation across the world. Int Rev Psychiatry 28:395–399

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. O’Neill A-M (2005) Irish mental health law. First Law, Dublin

    Google Scholar 

  10. Kavanagh J (2015) Electoral law in Ireland. Bloomsbury Professional, West Sussex

    Google Scholar 

  11. Citizens Information Board (2018) Facilities for voters with disabilities. Citizens Information Board Accessed 12 October 2018

  12. McIntyre J, Khwaja M, Yelamanchili V, Naz S, Clarke M (2012) Uptake and knowledge of voting rights by adult in-patients during the 2010 UK general election. Psychiatrist 36:126–130

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Kennedy H (2007) The general election campaign. Irish Times 23 May

  14. Houston M (2009) 60% turnout at hospital poll. Irish Times 30 May

  15. Siddique A, Lee A (2014) A survey of voting practices in an acute psychiatric unit. Ir J Psychol Med 31:229–231

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Melamed Y, Solomon Z, Elizur A (1997) Voting by Israeli patients. Psychiatr Serv 48:1081

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Melamed Y, Donsky L, Oyffe I, Noam S, Levy G, Gelkopf M (2013) Voting of hospitalized and ambulatory patients with mental disorders in parliamentary elections. Isr J Psychiatry Relat Sci 50:13–16

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Ott BR, Heindel WC, Papandonatos GD (2003) A survey of voter participation by cognitively impaired elderly patients. Neurology 60:1546–1548

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Gallagher M (2016) The results analysed: the aftershocks continue. In: Gallagher M, March M (eds) How Ireland voted 2016: the election that nobody won. Palgrave Macmillan/Springer Nature, Cham, pp 125–158

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  20. Katz MH (1999) Multivariable analysis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  21. Daly A, Craig S (2017) Activities of Irish psychiatric units and hospitals 2016. Health Research Board, Dublin

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors are very grateful to the reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brendan D. Kelly.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This study was approved by the Faculty of Health Sciences Ethics Committee at Trinity College Dublin (reference 151102).

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kelly, B.D., Nash, M. Voter participation among people attending mental health services in Ireland. Ir J Med Sci 188, 925–929 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: