Selling Anxiety: The Construction of Psychological disorders

Consumer anxiety results in sales.

At the ground level, we have cleaning products - what sort of mother are you to expose your child to germs? Your child could die, you know, but if you buy this spray then it will kill 99.9% of germs. What's more, people will no longer judge you for wiping your counters with raw chicken breasts.

A notch up from cleaning products on the anxiety scale is deodorant for teenage boys. Or, if you’re a girl, it’s called ‘body spray’ because why limit yourself to spraying it under your arms? Spray it everywhere, and then you’ll be guaranteed not to stink, and you'll need to buy a new can every month. At 2PM on any given week day, hot or rainy, high school teachers around the nation are willing the day to end and wondering how to teach a class without actually having to ingest any air.  

Stage 3 on the anxiety scale relates to weight. Yes, ladies, of course you actually are the fattest person who ever lived. Truly. Why not drink this revolting chemical laden drink, then force your body into starvation mode while you then prepare to put on more weight? How many partners have actually got you naked in bed only to say “I’ve actually changed my mind now. Your bum/stomach/little toe is too fat”.

The final stage of anxiety-induced purchasing is to convince people that they are crazy. Or at least they will be very soon, if they do not take psychiatric drugs immediately. Advertising for psychiatric medication is not lawful in Australia, but in the USA it’s not unusual to see it advertised in magazines and on TV. Feeling sad? Sadness can’t possibly be normal. You’re probably depressed. Grief? Not likely. You should be over it by now. Ask your doctor about ‘Wonder Drug’. It’s a wonder if you’ll ever get off it, because now you’re convinced that you can’t cope with any negative emotions. The absence of depression does not necessarily equal happiness.  

Because the advertisement of psychiatric medication is regulated, we have to find other ways of instilling fear. The internet can tell you what psychiatric disorder you might have (take a quiz), and also which celebrities share your suffering. Then you just need to wait for the word 'cancer' to start flashing on the screen somewhere. You’ve probably got that as well.

Be cautious about identifying with celebrities though, because according to James Chapman you might suffer from celebrity worship syndrome . Coincidentally, I love the fact that Chapman shares the surname of someone who is famed for stalking Jodie Foster and killing John Lennon.

I quite enjoy an outright made up disorder for the purpose of dramatic effect. The movie The Cell came up with something called Whalen’s infraction to explain a serial killer’s behaviour. The character supposedly had something akin to a ‘viral’ form Schizophrenia. He could not tell the difference between reality and fantasy because of a virus he contracted in utero which lay dormant for 30 years. Impressive use of making people even more scared of Schizophrenia than they were before! You can read the script here.

Then there’s Goldfield Syndrome, a type of anterograde amnesia in which the person wakes up with no memory of the day before (courtesy of 50 First Dates). Also watch out for synaptic seepage, in which the brain downloads too much information, causing intermittent seizures and death after 3 days (Johnny Mnemonic).

Then there are the pseudo-psychological disorders that people come up with to describe cultural phenomena (and to build their media platform?). About a decade ago, it was very popular to talk about co-dependency as if it were a disorder.  The latest made up disorder is techno-stress. According to Wiki, techno-stress is defined as “the negative psychological link between people and the introduction of new technologies”. Craig Ahmed, leader in the field of techno-stress research, even goes so far as to call it a disease. There’s a reason that those of us over the age of 30 are still tripping over “STI” instead of “STD”. Remember, anxiety about STDs is something your parents used to experience when the Telecom bill came.

You can read Wiki’s list of fictional diseases and disorders, here.

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