Wednesday, October 7th, 2015...4:33 pm

Mental health isn’t just for tragedy

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In our class and on digitaljournalism.blogs.wm.edu, we’ve been talking about satire and comedy. One of my favorite comedic sources of news is John Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight. This past Sunday, Oliver’s central bit was about mental health treatment in this country — naturally, I took notice.

Oliver discussed mental health in relation to the recent mass shooting in Oregon, and in relation to mass shootings in general. He was deeply upset by the fact that people who are anti-gun control use lack of quality mental health care as a way to sidestep gun control debates and then proceed not to do anything to help people who actually have mental illnesses.

“We don’t talk about mental illness well,” Oliver said. “It seems like there is nothing like a mass shooting to suddenly spark political interest in mental health.”

Aside from the troubling fact that bringing up mental health is being used to shield politicians from having to think critically about how their views and votes against gun control might affect and end the lives of the very people whose rights they argue they are protecting, mental illness is not even as deeply connected to mass shootings as people believe.

“Mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators,” Oliver said, citing a 2014 study from the American Journal of Public Health, “So the fact we only tend to discuss mental health in a mass shooting context is deeply misleading.”

While Oliver did not address campus mental health in this bit, many of the themes he addressed can be applied to this smaller subpopulation of mentally ill Americans. For example, just as mental health in general is primarily discussed after a mass shooting, mental health on campus is primarily discussed only after a student suicide. People take note of dramatic incidents involving death, but they fail to note that many college students struggle with mental health concerns on a day to day basis. Obviously students who are a danger to themselves or others should be prioritized in terms of care, but those students are a minority among students with mental health concerns. Should we neglect the needs of students just because they are not on the brink of killing themselves?

“But if now is our only opportunity to discuss mental health, perhaps we should do it,” Oliver said, and I think the mentality on the College of William and Mary’s campus after Paul Soutter’s suicide last semester was much the same. It was a final straw for our campus. While inadequate mental health care wasn’t necessarily a simple root cause of the deaths of Peter Godshall ’15, Saipriya Rangavajhula ’17, and Paul Soutter ’17, it was sure to be brought up and it was an issue that needed discussing.

Sadly, only discussing mental health in the wake of tragedy does not solve the problems we encounter on a daily basis. We should strive for proper mental health care at every stage of a person’s life not just to prevent deaths, to avoid gun control debates, or to put up a facade of caring but because people deserve to be cared for adequately.

 

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