In addition to introducing a brilliant new website, Last Week Tonight took on the incredibly important issue of mental illness and its role in gun violence during last night's show (October 4). Before beginning the main segment, host John Oliver briefly reviewed other events from the past week. He began with Russia, "Earth's Death Star", and concluded by speaking about the Secret Service and working in yet another dig at Gwyneth Paltrow (who may be Last Week Tonight's Arby's).
The main topic was mental illness, or "that thing actors pretend to have in order to win Oscars". The reality of mental illness is that as a society, we don't like to discuss it. Oliver highlighted the stigma surrounding mental illness, pointing out that "we don't talk about it well". Even the words and language used by those who claim to be doctors is stigmatizing and harmful.
The most obvious sign that society has difficulty talking about mental illness is that the only time it's brought up in any meaningful way is in "the aftermath of a mass shooting as a means of steering the conversation away from gun control". This was highlighted through a clip of three Republican presidential candidates speaking about this week's mass shooting in Oregon: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee all called for us to "do more" about mental illness. Oliver quickly pointed out that Huckabee's state received a D- in mental health while he was in office.
Another fact worth pointing out is that the United States, Canada, and Australia have similar statistics regarding mental illness, with each country reporting rates of close to 20%. Only the United States reports homicide rates per 1 million in the double digits.
In fact, the aftermath of a mass shooting may be the worst time to bring up the topic of mental illness. Most mentally ill individuals are not violent, do not commit violence, and are more likely to be the victims of violence themselves. Oliver highlighted a study published in the Annals of Epidemiology which stated "the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others". He pointed to another study published by the American Journal of Public Health which confirmed one important and often overlooked fact: "adults with mental illnesses were more likely to be victims than perpetrators of community violence".
The current mental health care system in the United States (and Canada, though that was not the system at issue in last night's episode) is a disaster "and always has been". While the former method of locking the mentally ill away and forgetting the key has been overhauled, the system meant to replace it is ill equipped. The system has deteriorated to the point where jails are now the largest providers of treatment to the mentally ill. It's "ineffective, expensive and dangerous".
Oliver did highlight potential solutions to the fragmented and dysfunctional system: police training in mental illness, and Assertive Community Treatment teams. Unfortunately, police training isn't widespread and even in the jurisdictions where it is offered, it's often optional. Assertive Community Treatment programs help the mentally ill remain in the community living independently by providing whatever support the individual needs. Despite paying for themselves, these programs are also suffering from budget cuts and reimbursement problems.
Oliver closed the segment by angrily calling out those who say we need to do more.
Do it then. Because if we're going to constantly use mentally ill people to dodge conversations about gun control, the very least we owe them is a fucking plan.
The show closed with a short segment on social media, specifically the upcoming Peeple app. Billed as "Yelp for people" the app that allows users to rate other people without consent was met with considerable opposition. Oliver highlighted exactly how tone-deaf the co-founders are by referring to one of them asking how to block criticism on her Facebook page. He also, correctly, asked "have you ever been on the internet?" The segment was used to introduce an alternative to Peeple, a website that can facilitate the need to say horrible things about other people while also preventing others from getting hurt. The site is Scream Into The Void, and it gives users "all the catharsis about typing hateful things into the internet with none of the human consequences".
Watch the segment on mental illness below and please, ask your political representative to do more to help those with mental illness.