More than 20,000 people living with mental illness risk missing their right to vote

Press release
13 June 2024

There are 23,462 people experiencing a mental illness being treated in inpatient settings who are at risk of missing out on their right to vote, due to a lack of information and support.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists and Rethink Mental Illness have joined forces to remind patients living with mental illness, carers and healthcare professionals, of the voting rights of hospital inpatients.

Voters in inpatient settings have the same right to vote as anyone else – even if they are receiving treatment away from where they live. Being detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act does not affect voting rights. The only people in the UK who cannot cast a ballot are sentenced prisoners.

At every election, too many people experiencing severe mental illness are unaware of their voting rights, or the options of voting by proxy or postal votes. They may also struggle to complete administrative requirements, such as acquiring acceptable voter ID.

The deadlines to register to vote are as follows:

  • Registering to vote: Tuesday 18 June
  • Requesting a postal vote: Wednesday 19 June
  • Request a vote by proxy: Wednesday 26 June

Rethink Mental Illness’ election guidance sets out simple steps for mental health staff and carers to help people with mental illness apply their democratic rights:

  • Register in time – People without a permanent or fixed address, including hospital inpatients, can register at an address where they would be living if it were not for their current circumstances, or at an address where they are staying temporarily or have lived at in the past. Carers can also register to vote on behalf of someone if they have permission and details at hand.
  • Remember voter ID – Under new rules, voters must show photo ID when voting in person at a general election. Accepted forms of ID can be found at People who do not have an accepted form of voter ID can apply for a free ID document, known as a Voter Authority Certificate by 26 June. Carers voting via proxy only need to show their own voter ID cards.
  • Consider postal voting – This can be selected as an option during the registration process. Voters will be sent a ballot paper in the post about a week before election day, which needs to be returned in the post as quickly as possible to make sure it’s counted.
  • Consider proxy voting – Voters can also nominate someone else to vote for them. This could be a friend or family member. People must apply for a proxy vote beforehand.

Dr Lade Smith CBE, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“Voting is an opportunity for people to engage with their communities and have a say on how the country should be run. Yet too many people with a mental illness are unable to participate, because of a lack of information and support, and not knowing their rights.

“People sectioned under the Mental Health Act are the most likely to miss out on their democratic rights, due the misconception that it prevents people from voting. This is a clear example of the discrimination facing people with severe mental illness. More must be done to inform patients, health professionals and wider society about the democratic rights of people in inpatient settings, which are enshrined in law.

“Taking part in elections is part of being a citizen. As health professionals we have a particularly important role to play in informing patients. That is why we are calling on trusts to work with patients, to help them understand their rights and support them through each stage of voting. From registering to vote before the 18 June, to casting their ballot on the 04 July.

“Health will be one the most important issues for voters in this election, we must make sure that all patients are given the opportunity to express their views.”

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“People severely affected by mental illness often feel left behind and are passionate about the change that is needed within health and beyond. Unfortunately, they also face greater barriers to exercising their democratic right to vote.

“Due to misconceptions, some people detained under the Mental Health Act incorrectly assume they are not allowed to vote. Some struggle with the admin involved in registering to vote or acquiring suitable ID. Others are unsure how to vote if they are too anxious to attend the polling station in person. Underlying all such questions and concerns is a lack of information and support for people experiencing severe mental illness and their loved ones around voting rights.

“We encourage people experiencing mental illness, carers and the professionals supporting them to read our voting guide, and ensure they register to vote in time. Given the importance of health at this election, it is only right that those likely to be most severely impacted get the opportunity to have their say.”

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