John Oliver criticizes GOP presidential candidates for using mental illness to avert further questions about gun control.


On Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Oliver took a hard stance against GOP presidential candidates using mental illness to divert attention away from conversations about gun control. When asked about the Oregon school shooting, this is what these GOP presidential candidates had to say on the matter:

“This isn’t guns, this is about, really, mental illness,” Donald Trump said on ABC.

“In many of these shootings we have people who have mental disturbances,” Ben Carson said on FOX.

“Do we need to do a better job in mental health? You bet we do,” Mike Huckabee said on CNN.

Oliver felt that this blatant use of mental illness as a means of avoiding the topic of gun control was unfair since there is plenty of research stating that, in fact, most people with a mental illness are not violent, and most people who commit violent crimes are not mentally ill. Not only that, but Oliver also condemned politicians for only speaking about mental illness when it suited them, despite the increasingly crucial need for better mental health care in the United States.

An estimated 48.5 million Americans suffer from mental illness each year.

“Perhaps the clearest sign of just how little we want to talk about mental health is that one of the only times it’s actively brought up is, as we’ve seen yet again this week, in the aftermath of a mass shooting as a means of steering the conversation away from gun control,” Oliver explained. “It seems like there’s nothing like a mass shooting to suddenly spark political interest in mental health. Although, it’s worth noting that Gov. Huckabee’s state got a grade of D-minus on mental health care while he was in office, and you can’t lecture people on something you got a D-minus in. It’s like passionately delivering a speech on proper English grammar by saying, ‘We need to thunk better about how we does word stuff. We need to get it did.’” The audience laughed and applauded this comparison.

Despite this poor campaigning strategy from the GOP candidates, Oliver took the opportunity to discuss mental health in more depth, since they were bringing it up, anyway.

“When you look at how our current system deals with mental illness you’ll quickly realize it’s a mess and always has been,” Oliver said. “We used to lock people up in asylums which were often so bad they were known as snake pits, and that doesn’t sound like an attractive place to live even if you’re a snake. You’d want some kind of snake loft, or snake bungalow, I don’t know, I’m not real-e-snake agent.”

Oliver went on to explain how in the 1960s President Kennedy had signed a bill to shut down many of those asylums and replace them with therapeutic centers. Unfortunately, Congress never really followed through with Kennedy’s plans, and instead, thousands of people with serious mental illnesses were being placed in nursing homes or being sent into something called ‘Greyhound therapy’ where patients with serious mental illnesses were discharged sooner than they should have been from an institution and given a one-way ticket on a bus to effectively get rid of them.

“And we have not even got to the most depressingly common place people with mental illness can end up,” Oliver said, meaning the two million people with mental illness who end up being sent to state and local jails in order to keep them off the streets. Because of this, there are now 10 times more people with mental health problems living in prison than there are in state funded psychiatric facilities, and that doesn’t seem like a better solution at all.

Not only is this inhumane, but it can be very dangerous, Oliver explained. “Using the criminal justice system to treat the mentally ill isn’t just ineffective, it’s expensive, and it’s dangerous, because often, when someone is having a mental health emergency the police will be called, and that can end tragically. By some estimates an incredible half of all incidents involving the police use of deadly force involve a mentally ill person, and to their credit some police departments are changing the way they do things.” Apparently, some places have created special units within the police department called a Crisis Intervention Training Program, which deals specifically with issues regarding people with mental illnesses. This is all good and well, but only 15% of police agencies have a program like this in place, and although Oliver is pleased with their efforts, he feels that this should be a program that every police agency has, especially since these programs supposedly pay for themselves.

Oliver ended the segment by addressing the GOP presidential candidates who have been shamelessly using mental illness to avoid the topic of gun control, and saying how we need to “do a better job in mental health” as Huckabee stated, telling them, “Okay, fine, do it then! Because if we’re going to constantly use mentally ill people to dodge conversations about gun control then the very least we owe them is a f—ing plan.”

The next episode of Last Week Tonight airs on Oct. 11 at 11 pm on HBO.

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