Excessive Information on Anxiety Not Helpful

information overload

In 1774 Goethe published a novel called The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) . The protagonist, Werther, dressed himself in a peculiar way and committed suicide after being spurned by his love interest. In the years following its publication, many young European men dressed themselves as Werther, in yellow pants and blue jackets, and sat with Goethe’s book open on their lap and killed themselves in the exact manner the protagonist of that novel had done. When the European authorities noticed a suicide epidemic running rampant, they banned the book. Since then, this social phenomena has became known as “the Werther effect.”

American sociologist David Phillips found that when an event like a suicide or a homicide is largely publicized and made into a major media spectacle, it can lead others to imitate it.

Now you might ask, “What does the Werther effect have to do with anxiety?”

Well, isn’t it curious that over the last several decades the amount of information on anxiety-related problems has dramatically increased? Google, for example, offers 159 million pages of results on ‘anxiety’ and more than 500 million when you search for the word ‘fear’. And we should not forget that there are also numerous books, magazine and newspaper articles written on the subject.

There are thousands of sites, blogs and forums giving detailed information and advice on all manner of anxiety-related problems. You can find authoritative pages, be it government institutions, psychiatric or psychological organizations, offering the latest studies and treatment options for anxiety, fear, panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

However, here is the curious fact. Even though we know more about these problems today, there has been a commensurate increase in the number of cases of phobias and anxiety. You might think that the more people know, the fewer the cases of anxiety. After all, isn’t knowledge power? But the opposite is true in this case.

Marshal McLuhan, the late Canadian philosopher and communications theorist, warned us against what he called ‘information overload’. The excess of information can lead to confusion. This might be the reason why despite millions of pages offering information and advice to people suffering from anxiety, there are more anxious people than before.