Shannon Brownlee had a great piece in the Washington Post the other day about how, as we live older, and hopefully more healthy lives, we’re being reminded more and more often of all the things that are wrong with us. Out of breath? Maybe you have tired-breathing syndrome. Sneezed more than 5 times today? It’s definitely allergies, an allergic reaction, or the bird flu.
Everywhere you turn, we’re being reminded by pharmaceutical companies and doctors, and well, yes, even our fellow e-patients, of all the possible things that might be wrong with us:
That’s what worries me. By constantly reminding us to be on the lookout for illness, doctors and the media have made many Americans feel more anxious. I’m not so sure their warnings have made us any healthier, but they have decidedly eroded our sense of well-being. We worry about every ache and pain; we fret that the least little sign of sadness in a teenager is a symptom of clinical depression. But in viewing so many aspects of ordinary human experience as treatable diseases, we may have granted medicine more power than it deserves — or is good for us.
And that’s a danger even as we become more informed and more educated about health, medical and mental health concerns through online support networks and information.
One of the first things you’re warned about in graduate school is not to worry if you see yourself in a good many of the mental disorders you’re learning about. It’s normal to say, “Hey, this sounds familiar! I think I might have XYZ.”
But most of us don’t have XYZ. We have to be careful and understand the point of all of these messages and things that could be seen as fear-mongering or disease-mongering… They’re not meant to intimate us or make us fearful, but really to help educate and make us aware.
Psychologists will tell you that too much information is just as bad as too little information. In the face of information overload, most people freeze and do nothing. Nothing is the status quo. So if researchers and pharmaceutical companies and doctors and online health networks all keep alerting me, in no uncertain terms, of all the possible things wrong with me, I can’t help but start tuning them out. And losing out on the medical and health messages I could really use.
There’s a line here somewhere in society, and I’m not certain if we’ve crossed it or not. But I do hear the common sense espoused by Brownlee and think we could all take a more skeptical look next time you hear a commercial on TV that suggests you should, “Ask your doctor.”
Yes, ask your doctor, but then ask yourself — Is the medicalization of our society a good thing?