Raw numbers don’t lie: more people are reporting problems with anxiety than ever before. I wrote a post a while back that casually explores this phenomenon and proposes a few simple explanations as to why this is the case. Regardless of its cause, with increasing numbers of anxiety sufferers comes a very strong financial niche for those who choose to exploit this suffering.

I do not (and will not) attempt to hide my disgust with such people; so I offer this as a disclaimer: I am adamantly opposed to any individual or organization that sells any program that claims to treat your anxiety for a fee that exceeds the cost of the production of the materials. In other words, if the individual/organization makes any sort of profit of such programs, I’m against it.

Is it wrong to use illness to make a profit?

This is a tough question. In the United States, our pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars on prescription drugs. In addition, doctors make hefty salaries; equipment manufacturers fill their coffers with profits generated by the sale and use of their medical equipment. By definition, all of these are examples of someone profiting on the suffering of others. But there’s also a complicating factor: without the motivation of profit, it is very possible that the quality of health care would suffer.

For example, if pharmaceutical companies did not stand to make billions, why would they invest so much in the development of new drugs? One could make the argument that this should be a government expense, but this relegates the funding to taxation, and such taxation would be an enormous hindrance to any economy. The cost would far exceed the benefits, as many drugs end up being canned before they ever reach the market.

Despite its “ends justifies the means” mentality, our current system may unfortunately be the best. The same goes for doctors and equipment manufacturers. Profit is the reason why they’re in the business. Without profit, few would be left to carry the massive burden of human illness.

Is it wrong to use anxiety to make a profit?

Given everything I’ve written above, you may think not. But there’s an important clarification to be made between illnesses like diabetes and those like anxiety. The vast majority of the profits generated by the “anxiety industry” come not because of an individual or company’s investment into anxiety research, but rather as a result of packaging and marketing.

While a new diabetes drug may make millions of dollars for its manufacturer, it only exists after years of research and approval by the FDA. The same goes for drugs directed toward anxiety, but anxiety programs often repackage common knowledge and sell it as a cure.

You’re buying a package, not a cure.

When you buy a program that claims to “conquer,” “defeat,” or “fix” your anxiety, you’re not paying for patented secrets or claims verified by the FDA (or by anyone for that matter). You’re paying for a package, plain and simple. For example, I could easily package this article as an “Anti-Anxiety Program Buying Guide” and sell it to you for whatever I wanted. There would be no oversight and no incentive for me to be accurate or honest. If you’re a paying customer, you’re buying my hype because you’re desperate for help.

When people are in pain, they’ll pay anything for hope. Therefore, I believe that it is immoral for anyone to package and sell hope for profit.

The biggest problem with these programs is that they’re based on common knowledge. In my own moments of desperation, I have personally investigated many of these programs and found them to be comprised mostly of the same stuff you can find on the internet for free. For example, why would you pay someone to tell you that yoga and meditation may help with anxiety? The only reason you would pay someone for this is if they packaged it nicely for you. In other words, if they found the information, compiled it into a “program” and sold it. That means you are paying for packaging, not for the information itself, and certainly not for the development of new methods of treating anxiety.

So what’s wrong with paying for “packaging” to treat anxiety?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, I recommend it. That’s what books are for. Yes, books, DVDs, and audio cassettes are repackaged material, delivered to you to save you the trouble of having to compile and record this information yourself. The distinction is the way in which these materials are marketed. They are often sold as cures with vague mentions of “breakthrough” methods or “secret techniques.” As if this weren’t enough, they often sell for many times the cost of production. And people keep buying because they want help and are willing to pay for it.

In short, these people are profiting on your desperation. Don’t let them get rich because you’re in pain. Be very clear about what you’re buying. When you buy a program, you’re buying materials, not a cure or treatment.

When is it safe to buy an anti-anxiety program or product?

Here are a few criteria that I recommend you use when researching which programs to buy:

  1. Does the program (or product) blatantly offer to cure your anxiety?
  2. Even if the program’s marketing materials (web site, advertisement, etc.) don’t come right out and say this, look more closely. Are there client or customer testimonials? What do they say? You’ll often see things like: “All I did was watch the DVD and I could immediately feel that my anxiety was going away.”

    Any reputable individual would not post a testimonial like this as proof that their program is worth its cost. While some people might get instant relief from watching a DVD or listening to a tape, this is nothing more than a psychological trick. There is no “cure” and no “secret” to this. You want help, and listening to someone talk about your problems is probably going to make you feel better… temporarily. Don’t get confused. This is not proof that the program works.

  3. There is no silver bullet, no secret cure, no magic technique.
  4. If you’re looking for a cure-all, forget it. There isn’t one. If any product or program attempts to claim that they have access to secret information, they’re lying.

  5. Look for honest testimonials, but don’t rely on them to make your decision.
  6. One person’s testimonial may not apply to your situation. Just because one individual says that program A or product B helped with their anxiety does not mean it will help you.

    When you authorize a company or an individual to use your words to sell their material, there’s an implicit agreement that you are accountable for what you say. Contact the company and ask to speak directly with individuals who’ve benefitted from product/program. Even if you don’t get anywhere with this, you can learn a lot by how a company’s customer service representatives treat you.

  7. Do not let a company diagnose you.
  8. I do know of one very prominent anti-anxiety program that will blatantly attempt to diagnose you over the phone and recommend a solution. This is immoral and illegal. Steer clear.

  9. Expect a money-back guarantee.
  10. Any decent program or product will offer to return your money if you aren’t satisfied. Be careful that this guarantee has no strings attached. You should be able to return whatever you’ve purchased, used or unused, opened or unopened, within a designated period of time. Keep in mind, however, that you may have to pay return shipping.

    When you receive your materials, review everything to be sure that you’ve gotten what you’ve paid for. If not, return it quickly. Don’t procrastinate.

  11. Ask around.
  12. Use internet forums like those available at Panic Survivor and About.com to ask about anti-anxiety program and products.

  13. Don’t buy when you’re desperate.
  14. Your desperation could cost you a lot of money if you aren’t careful. Unless you have loads of cash to waste, you should first be speaking with professionals before you turn to self-help programs. If you’re desperate for help, your doctor or therapist is the absolute best place to go.

  15. Remember: buying does not equal doing.
  16. In Western cultures we have this mindset that purchasing something is the equivalent of doing something. That’s why weight-loss programs sell so much. People want to lose weight, but they usually only go so far as to buy a machine, a pill, or a diet book. Few actually follow through. The same goes for anti-anxiety support. Purchasing a self-help program is not enough to help you. You have to be willing to use it in the same way you’d use an exercise bike. If you’re unwilling to follow through, save your cash.

  17. Check the retailer’s contact information.
  18. Many internet retailers won’t list phone numbers because they don’t operate out of brick-and-mortar stores and, personally, I don’t think we should hold that against them. Still, all retailers should always list an e-mail address. It isn’t enough to see that a retailer has an e-mail address, be sure to send an e-mail to make sure that it doesn’t bounce back. Many people have purchased items online and, later, when they had questions, they discovered that they had no way to contact the company. Be sure that the company’s e-mail account is active and that there’s actually someone on the other end to answer your questions and sort out problems.

What programs do you recommend?

My personal experience has shown me that none of the available programs suited my needs. The ones I tried were too expensive and too redundant for me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be helpful for you. I’m the straight-shooter type, so I don’t care for all that “You’re an important person and people like you” bull. I wanted to know more about anxiety and what to do to feel better, so I found these books to be my quickest route to recovery.

It should also be noted that I purchased many of these books used and ended up spending less on books than I did on the biggest selling anti-anxiety program. In the end, the books gave me much more information and comfort than the program ever did. The program is now functioning as a $300 doorstop.

I’m sure there are some decent programs out there (there are certainly a lot of them) and I will continue to update this article as I learn more about them, so please send me your feedback. I have tentative plans to create a “consumer reports” type page specifically for the review of these programs.