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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Mental Health Care

by Nolan Shah

John Oliver is a British comedian and host of Last Week Tonight, a comedic news show covering topics from sports to politics, to even artificial intelligence. Healthcare has been a central topic for Oliver’s television program because of the high costs, inefficiencies, and disparities that prevent patients from receiving adequate and affordable care. In August of 2022, Oliver reported on mental health care in the U.S. Despite the sensitive nature of the topic, the episode brilliantly maneuvers back and forth between satirical elements and serious qualms with the current state of mental healthcare. 

Oliver reports that despite the increased prevalence of depression and anxiety due to the pandemic, the mental healthcare system is not equipped to provide patients with proper psychiatric care. In fact, more than half the people who need mental health care do not receive it, and this disparity is even greater within minority communities. While there is an excess demand of people seeking psychiatric services, there is a massive shortage of mental health professionals. 65% of psychologists do not have the capacity for new patients, and for every ten mental health clinicians that enter the market, it is estimated that thirteen leave. 

There are many reasons for the shortage, the first of which is that insurance companies have had a historically adversarial relationship with providers. As a result, finding therapists that are covered by insurance remains difficult, leaving patients with the financial burden if they choose to seek treatment anyway. Mental health patients are about 5 times more likely to use out-of-network providers for behavioral care than for other medical treatments.

Insurance companies have also severely underpaid mental healthcare professionals, with psychiatrists remaining amongst the lowest annual earners of all medical specialists. According to Oliver, the answer is a single-payer healthcare system, and while there are certain issues with implementing this model of coverage, legislation needs to mandate compensation for mental health services at the same level as other forms of medical care. 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is entertaining, illuminating, and above all digestible. With major news organizations bombarding audiences with infuriating and depressing stories, Oliver’s program provides a refreshing and exciting way for viewers to stay informed. With season ten of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver set to premiere on February 19th on HBO, viewers can continue to expect informative news stories delivered through a comedic lens.

Watch on HBO or Youtube now.