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Hospitalised mentally ill patients vote in Israel
  1. Dr Yuval Melamed
  1. Head, Department 5A Abarbanel Mental Health Center, Bat Yam, Israel
  2. Lecturer, Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Medicine

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    This is the third time hospitalised mentally ill patients have voted in Israeli elections.

    In 1996 the law was changed so that patients, including those in psychiatric hospitals, could participate in elections while hospitalised.

    Until that year, hospitalised patients could participate in elections only if released from the hospital to vote at their local polling stations.

    The ability of mentally ill patients to participate in the democratic process has aroused interest over a long period of time.1

    In Israel, the right to vote, granted in 1996, raised questions regarding whether the character of their vote would differ from that of the general society or would be apportioned according to the normal distribution of the vote of the citizenry.2

    In the 1999 elections, patients again participated; however, their voting rate was conspicuously lower than that of the general population: in a psychiatric hospital in the Tel Aviv area, 29% of the hospitalised patients voted, compared with 72% of the general population.3

    On February 6 2001, a special election was held to choose only the prime minister; members of the knesset (parliament) did not stand for election.

    Around 60% of eligible voters participated in the elections, a relatively low percentage (in Israel).

    In the Abarbanel Mental Health Center, a large psychiatric hospital in the Tel Aviv area, only 132 of the 509 patients hospitalised that day, 26%, voted. If the additional 47 patients released for the day followed past patterns and they voted while at home, the rate of voting among the patients might have reached 35%.

    This is a low result in comparison with the general population; however, it is similar to the percentage of participants in the 1999 elections. It follows that the percentage of patient participation in these elections did not fall, but rather remained low, as in the past.

    It may be that what this shows is that a constant proportion of patients regard themselves as part of society and want to participate in the vote. On the other hand, it could be that they were detached and uninfluenced by the general frame of mind and ambivalence in society which caused many to refrain from voting in this election.

    It is time for all the mentally ill to participate in all the actions of society, including voting.