In the wake of Thursday's mass shooting in Oregon at Umpqua Community College, gun rights advocates were quick, once again, to blame such tragedies on mental illness. But this is a deeply harmful and incorrect argument to make, according to John Oliver on Last Week Tonight.
The show host aired quotes of GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee all arguing that mental illness — not guns — were to blame for the shooting.
"Perhaps the clearest signs 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 noted on Sunday night.
Oliver argues the country must be more prudent in how it discusses mental illness, as only bringing it up in the wake of a shooting rampage creates damaging and unfounded associations with violence.
"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 nonviolent and the vast majority of gun violence is committed by non-mentally ill people," Oliver explains.
"In fact, mentally ill people are far likelier to be the victims of violence, rather than the perpetrators," Oliver continues.
"But if now is our only opportunity to have a public discussion about mental health, then perhaps we should do it — because in 2013 an estimated 43.8 million American adults dealt with a mental illness and an estimated 10 million of us suffer from a serious mental illness each year. Ten million," the host warns.
"That's almost as many people as live in Greece, and most of us know a lot more about Greece than we know about our mental health system," Oliver says.
Oliver argues the United States has a dark history of dealing with mentally ill people, placing them in asylums with conditions so grim, they were referred to 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.'"
Oliver compels the audience to rethink how mental illness is perceived and talked about — particularly as it is an issue which affects tens of millions of Americans. It should not be used as a scapegoat to avoid taking responsibility for gun control. Doing so has far-reaching implications for society.
"The fact we tend to only discuss mental health in a mass shooting context is deeply misleading," Oliver notes.