Some problems are mountains and some problems are molehills and most problems are somewhere in between. That your two-year-old grabs toys from other children isn’t a catastrophic problem.
That your adolescent is relying on heroin is another matter entirely. That your child’s grades aren’t stellar isn’t a catastrophic problem, even though it may feel that way as you think about his or her future. That he or she is seriously self-harming is another matter entirely. You do not want to hold all problems as of equal moment and of equal weight.
In the addiction recovery field, for example, there are somewhat clear and fairly useful distinctions made among experimentation, regular use, habitual use, abuse, dependence, etc. Most of life’s challenges, however, don’t present themselves in such neat categories. Is your child moody (like almost any adolescent), gloomy, despondent, despairing, or in some even darker place? Under only moderate stress to perform well, under a good deal of stress, or under great stress? Equipped with a rich fantasy life or dangerously lost in fantasy? Happy in solitude or far too isolated? As hard as it is to make fine distinctions when it comes to challenges of this sort, it is still wise to speculate about the mildness or seriousness of a given problem. Often, we do not need to go on high alert; and sometimes we must.
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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.