Why You Should Spend More Time Thinking About Seriousness


by Chaya Grossberg

An anonymous opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal criticizes SAMHSA and the peer movement for focusing primarily on the “worried well” and neglecting those with serious mental disorders. I’m writing to tell you this distinction is vague and unfounded. There is no evidence base to support this supposedly clear distinction that the author uses to mock SAMHSA’s efforts to treat all people as human beings on a human spectrum, regardless of how serious a label they’ve been given.

Let’s break down these serious mental disorders starting with the first word: serious. What does it mean and who decides what is serious and what isn’t? If something, anything, is presented as solely serious it sounds one sided and manipulative to me. Sure, death, violence and oppression are serious but let’s get more honest than that-everything has a heavy side and a light side. No individuals life ought be damned SERIOUS. Just thinking about the word serious and facing it head on makes me feel light and like laughing. Condemning someone to a sentence of seriousness is dishonest and limits that persons potential. 

While I do take many things seriously, the only way I can be effective is by combining serious commitment to a cause with some lightness, some letting go. Nothing of value has ever been accomplished by being sanctioned as a “serious matter” only. In the darkest hour and starkest tragedy, it is humor, love, friendship and lightness (combined with respect for the weight of things) that bring relief to suffering people. And what friendship or love is all serious?

We see this manipulation of public sentiment with the word serious in all aspects of Western medicine and politics as it’s a way to use people’s fears of the Ultimate Serious Problem to garner support for a large variety of business and corporate interests. When you hear or read the word serious, ask yourself who is making money from calling this situation serious. It’s complicated, of course, because there are genuine concerns that fall under the “serious” umbrella, yet I’ve never met a person, cause, business or movement I trust that can’t laugh, and laugh at itself. 

All wise people have a funny bone underneath their solemn and steadfast efforts, so let’s not let theserious in “serious mental disorders” derail us or blind-sight us from seeing that all people and their lives have some lightness, some joy, some laughter even- or from seeing that even someone with a completely different mind than you might not see their mental state as serious. 

As for violence, sure it’s serious, AND it is everywhere.  In all of our media, politics, medicine, families, within ourselves, and in every corner of society there is some form of violence. Protecting ourselves and our loved ones, especially children and those without the ability to protect themselves is important and serious, if you will, but does this indicate serious mental disorders? To tackle this question, let’s move to mental disorders and what they are.

Mental indicates of the mind or brain and disorders are situations perceived to be chaotic, but what exactly is a disorder? The word disorder isn’t used with any individual part of the body (besides the brain) such as a liver disorder, kidney disorder, lung disorder, etc. We do hear about speech, behavioral, personality and brain disorders. Disorder isn’t a scientific term, though Western Medicine has accepted it as such. There is no official brain, speech, personality or behavioral order that humans are “supposed” to have. In fact, just the idea that our personalities, minds, brains, speech and behavior should follow a certain order sounds fascist, conformist and utterly non-human. It sounds like a serious problem. 

But instead the author is focused on the seriousness of those whose brains, personalities, speech and behaviors are seriously not in “order.” Yet, what is this order? If we are talking about violence, let’s talk about violence, and stop mixing it up with these alleged serious mental disorders and treating people labeled with them violently. You know something is wrong when the same group of people preaching the seriousness of the risk of violence are pushing an agenda to “treat” these mentally disordered folks with serious, life threatening and violent drugs. Let’s ask ourselves what’s serious and what’s humorous about all this.

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