Self-Care Bulletin: John Oliver on Mental Illness and Gun Control

Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars - Show
NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 28: John Oliver performs on stage at Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars at Beacon Theatre on February 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

It’s incredibly rare for the topic of mental health—specifically mental illness—to be addressed in pop culture. It can be discussed scientifically, academically, artistically, spiritually, but it is one of those uncomfortable topics that seem to trigger shame-by-association in the general public.

On Oct. 4, late night host John Oliver braved the messy topic and delivered a monologue par excellence that was not only informative, but branded with the weapon of humor.

Here are a few highlights from the roughly 10-minute piece:

  1. The National Alliance on Mental Illness gave the United States an overall “D” average for its delivery of mental health care in 2009. In this article by USA Today, you can find a breakdown of each state’s strengths and weaknesses. The vast majority of the 50 states remained in the “C” to “D” rating.
  1. Public figures who brand themselves as professionals will satirize individuals’ stories with words like “insane,” “nuts” or “crazy.” Oliver cites celebrity doctors like Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Phil McGraw for failing to address mental health issues in a responsible and informative manner.
  1. Perhaps the most incisive reason for Oliver’s monologue is the tendency for mental health to suddenly strewn headlines when gun violence and mass shootings occur. The exclusionary comparison not only exacerbate stigma against those who manage mental illness, but they are also statistically false.

“One of the only times it’s actively brought up is in the aftermath of a mass shooting as a means of steering the conversation away from gun control,” said Oliver.

“It seems there is nothing like a mass shooting to suddenly spark political interest in mental health. And the aftermath of a mass shooting might actually be the worst time to talk about mental health because for the record, the vast majority of mentally ill people are non-violent, and the vast majority of gun violence is committed by non-mentally ill people. In fact, mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims violence rather than the perpetrators.”

This is by no means a job complete in the dire need to steer discussions of mental health into the limelight and away from being exclusively linked to gun violence, but it is a job well done on the Oliver’s part. Given its news coverage and YouTube views, it’s clear the lack of destigmatization of mental health is not due to a lack of interest, but other socio-political factors which may or may not prioritize the estimated 10 million Americans who grapple with mental illness at the current.

Check out the full video below:

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