John Oliver Invokes The Spirit Of JFK

After taking potshots at pop culture representations of mental illness on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver dug into a serious mental-health issue in relation to the Umpqua Community College shooting: "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."

That certainly was the case in 2012, when Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, blamed mass shootings such as Sandy Hook on America's crumbling social infrastructure: "We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed," he told NBC.

But critics argued the NRA didn't have any investment in mental health, other than to distract the public from the issue of gun control. In an interview with The Economist, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (D) called the ploy a "bait-and-switch" whereby the gun lobby appears to offer constructive comments without proposing anything of substance.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy (D) responded to LaPierre's remark by calling mental health a "smokescreen."

But the smoke seems to be dissipating in 2015 based on Donald Trump's recent remarks following the Umpqua tragedy: "Even if you did great mental health programs," he told MSNBC, "people are going to slip through the cracks."

Oliver thinks America can do something to combat mental illness, He suggests reviving the last piece of legislation signed by President John F. Kennedy before his assassination: The Community Mental Health Act of 1963. This legislation sought to reform America's overcrowded and understaffed state institutions and provide easier access to treatment that would help patients find or regain their place in society.

Michelle R. Smith of The Associated Press notes that prior to the act, a patient with schizophrenia spent an average of 11 years at a mental institution. While some gains were made, the full scope of Kennedy's vision was never realized: "Only half of the proposed centers were ever built, and those were never fully funded," according to Smith.

With mental health and mass shootings once again being debated, perhaps it's time for Americans to revive Kennedy's lost legacy.

As Oliver puts it, "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 fu**ing plan."

h/t CNN, The Economist, Seattle Times

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