The true picture of the mental health care system in America

For years, we have worked to educate ourselves and our community around the topic of mental health and how the need for proper care is essential to an individual’s way of life. There is often a stigma in our nation around mental health because it is not well understood and often inaccurately portrayed in the media and in today’s pop culture.

In the special, Mental Health Care: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he discussed the cracks in the mental health care system and some of the inadequate ways we’ve tried to fill the gaps over the years. This month, we unpack the conversation and share our thoughts on the topics covered in John Oliver’s Mental Health Care Special. Let’s dive in!

The stigma around mental health

Although we have come a long way over the years and have made improvements, there continues to be a stigma around mental health care. Today, more than ever before, our country is faced with a rising demand for a skilled and qualified workforce to meet client needs, and growing concern for a significant population of individuals with untreated mental illness who are experiencing life-altering circumstances, such as homelessness and incarceration

A primary challenge the mental health industry is faced with is society seeing people with a mental illness as “different from.” As a business who makes it our mission to bring joy and life fulfillment in the midst of a SMI, “being different” is a classification we continually aim to debunk, especially because of its negative connotation. There is a false idea that overcoming a mental illness is a matter of will power. We’re led to believe that people can “fix” their own mental health problems and undervalue what the support of an expert can do for our overall mental well being. Even more detrimental to this narrative, is that mental health supports are only for “people who really need it”, or the insinuation that family members did “something wrong.” Unlike the unquestioned understanding that a physical ailment, a cancer diagnosis, or other physical illness would require medical attention, the invisibility of mental illness makes it much easier to dismiss. This acknowledgement begins with a level of vulnerability to be able to talk about mental health concerns and unfortunately our society views vulnerability as weakness, instead of a strength.

The cracks and brokenness in the mental healthcare system

Where do we begin? We believe that the cracks in the mental health care system began with the ending of institutions. The idea of creating community care support never happened and we ended up creating a prison pipeline instead. John Oliver hit the nail on the head when he said, “we had institutions that looked like jails and now jails have become the institutions.”

There are a number of issues within the mental health care system and they start with workforce issues and the lack of accessible resources. A lot of what we know to work for people isn’t covered by private insurance, such as case management and wrap around supports. Medicaid covers these services but there are often long waitlists and clients are not receiving the support they need in a timely manner, which can make the symptoms of their illness worse. Additionally, there is a lack of consistency across state lines when it comes to court ordered treatment. For example, forty seven states permit the use of Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT). But there are three states (Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts) that do not have Assisted Outpatient Treatment statutes. 

In our country, mental health treatment is viewed as a privilege, not a right. And accessing those services and being able to afford them is a huge barrier for those trying to get the help they need. There is also a lack of cultural competency and mistrust of healthcare based on historical experiences with healthcare, especially as it pertains to populations of color.

Our thoughts on Teletherapy

One of the positive things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic was mental healthcare becoming more accessible to clients through virtual methods. Teletherapy has been a great option for the right client, but not the appropriate fit for everyone. Currently, there seems to be a quality control issue with teletherapy and we believe it’s best to get a referral for teletherapy from a trusted friend or healthcare professional. Our advice would be to proceed with caution.

So, what did we think of John Oliver’s Special

We agree, wholeheartedly, with John Oliver’s assessment of the mental health care system in America. It’s totally broken. And even when resources are available, the information is not readily available to the public because of the issue of accessibility. Essentially, if you’re not a mental healthcare professional or employ them to know how to access the resources that are out there, navigating your options is nothing short of confusing and frustrating.


Our vetted list of Advocacy and BIPOC resources.




BIPOC Resources


To view Mental Health Care: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, click here!

There is often a stigma in our nation around mental health because it is not well understood and often inaccurately portrayed in the media and in today’s pop culture.

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