Friday, May 15, 2009

Should the Mentally Ill be Allowed to Vote?

In the May 15 issue of Psychiatric News is an article titled, “Most With Mental Illness Meet Voting Competency Criteria.”

The study paradigm was extremely simplified. The study group was small and did not include the inpatient population or a control group.

“Participants were read descriptions of two candidates and asked to choose one, and to compare the candidates and how choosing one would affect their lives; they were also asked why they would or would not want to vote in the next election for governor...”

“They [the mentally ill] performed equally well on the assessment of comparative reasoning, but had more difficulty describing the impact of their choices on their own lives…”

I think understanding the personal impact of an electoral decision is one that is difficult for any person to grasp. Maybe everyone I know is mentally ill, but the general attitude is that it doesn’t matter whom you vote for because it isn’t going to change an individual’s day-to-day life.

“Moreover, the results did not correlate with cognitive function, intelligence, or severity of symptoms.”

"We have to be leery of efforts to use this instrument for wide-scale screening of people with mental illness," he [Appelbaum] told Psychiatric News. "The Americans With Disabilities Act, among other laws, and probably the Constitution protect the rights of people with mental illness from being treated differently from the rest of the population. We don't screen the general population for their capacity to vote, so in general we shouldn't be screening people with mental illness.”

I don’t have access to full article, but you can find the abstract and a link to the full text at Psychiatric Services.

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