The news item didn't really startle me, for I had long suspected as much. Perhaps it was just the stark statistical ranking that rattled my cage.

You may have seen the wire story that was condensed into an infosquiblet in this very newspaper.

A study released this past week says Oklahoma has the highest rate of mental illness per capita in the nation.

We're the craziest of the crazy.

(Yes, as much as the admission shames me I almost immediately thought, "Well, we couldn't do it in the Sugar Bowl, we couldn't do it in the Final Four, but by dern, finally at something, WE'RE NUMBER ONE!!!)

OK, I know that in grim reality this is no laughing matter ... but then as I've long said here, sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Two eminent surveys of psychiatric profundity have allegedly confirmed that one out of every 10 Oklahomans has a serious mental illness problem.

No, as I'm sure you are thinking, I don't have to convene a panel of nine other Okies to prove that I'm probably one of the 10 percent. I sorta prove that every week right here.

At least I admit it, quite publicly. One of the high octane head shrinkers doing the surveys noted that, "Oklahomans tend to deny the early stages of mental illness, believing they can just get over it on their own."

Like that's a trait unique to our state.

After reading the article I abandoned the issue of the Daily Oklahoman in which it ran in full. I usually buy that paper because it has comics in color and the best crossword puzzle, but occasionally there's some news in it too.

Wandering into the living room I flipped on my TV set and channel surfed until I came across VH1's "100 Most Outrageous Celebrity Moments." Suddenly I didn't feel so bad for Oklahoma after all.

There was Michael Jackson dangling his baby off the Berlin balcony; Anne Hesche showing up at some people's house dressed only in a bra, offering to give them foot massages; Britney Spears slobbering all over Madonna then getting married for two days in Las Vegas; Whitney Houston breaking into a jive routine in the River Jordan ...

Like everything else in our eclectic social ethics, mental illness is a variable commodity.

We can nudge each other and chuckle over all that, then recoil in horror when Billy Bob from down at the trailer park has a meth moment and rams his pickup into the Jiffy Mart gas pumps.

Continuing my trek through the channels of our culture, I paused briefly to ponder the sweaty-palmed panic of people about to get the ax from "The Donald"; the adventures of a bunch of people subjecting themselves to physical and mental torture on a remote island; the antics of the dysfunctional biker family at Orange County Choppers, and, of course, the always amusing evening news.

Hmmmmm.

Makes you wonder just what the chrome domes are defining as "mental illness."

(Incidentally, I love watching those guys build motorcycles. It's one of the few shows left that always has a happy ending.)

Personally, I attribute some of my own ongoing weirdness to a long career in journalism.

Trying to untangle the can of worms the world opens up regularly, and laying them out in some logical fashion for my readers to see, can be a nerve-testing experience.

In fact, one of my editors will attest that at times I actually start frothing at the mouth when the phrase "Tar Creek Superfund Site" is mentioned.

If the lead doesn't make you crazy the EPA and politicians will!

Address correspondence to Gary Garton, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 41, Miami, Okla., 74355.

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