Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Think About Fear

Fear is powerful. It's manipulative, and advertisers love it. Why? Because fear sells. We spend money because of fear; we even dislike others out of fear.

Knowledge, though, can be more powerful than fear. Knowledge can make us less fearful by inserting reason into those nagging voices around us (i.e., society).

As I was thinking about this post and what I wanted to say, dozens of anecdotes kept coming to mind. I first thought of this past fall when the fear of Ebola spread like wildfire in the U.S., where, for most of us, there was very little risk.

I also thought of a recent excursion to the dentist where the dentist used a number of "scare tactics" in trying to coerce me into purchasing an appliance (for my mouth--not my kitchen!). While his reasons may have been sound, his sleazy salesman tactics led me to question his credibility; thus, I no longer felt as though he had my best interests in mind as a patient. For the discerning thinker, those kinds of tacks don't work; the discerning thinker questions and makes up her mind based on reason and logic, not fear.

I thought of the students whose fears of poor grades may cause them to cheat, thereby forgetting the reason for education.

And I thought of those whose fears of differences (of religion, race, lifestyles, etc.) cause them to kill or lash out in other inappropriate ways. 

And, finally, I thought of a book I read several months ago, Saving Normal by Allen Frances, M.D. Dr. Frances writes about the medicalization of normal life, manifested in the overdiagnoses/misdiagnoses of some (not all!) mental disorders/illnesses. Well researched and supported, Dr. Frances also bases his opinions on his experiences as a psychiatrist as well as his experiences with different editions of the DSM (DSM-5 is the most recent). This book also talks about, among other things, how, in marketing prescription drugs, the "worried well" are often targeted. Worries are often irrational in themselves. In other words, "worried" equals fear.


People are afraid of not being "normal," when normal is actually illusive and arbitrary. There are many states of being, and not all of them constitute a mental illness (in fact, most of them do not). One of the calls-to-action that Dr. Frances presents is in asking patients to be smart consumers; patients need to use their critical thinking skills and educate themselves. (Knowledge can overcome fear here.) Based on what I've read and what I've experienced, patients cannot (and should not!) rely on doctors and the Big Pharma marketers to provide them with all the information they need. Even when doctors do have a patient's best interest in mind, they may still be unwitting pawns in Big Pharma's money-grubbing.

The take-away is this: Applied knowledge (e.g., critical thinking skills) can outwit fear. Don't jump on the bandwagon. Don't believe the hype (the media, the ads, etc.) and fall victim to fear's power.  

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