Perfectionism May Undermine Mental Health of Youth

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Three types of perfectionism were assessed: self-oriented, or an irrational desire to be ideal; socially prescribed, or perceiving excessive expectations from others; and other-oriented, or placing unrealistic standards on others.

Another possible reason for the increase in perfectionism, say Curren and Hill, is "the rise in meritocracy", the idea that "the flawless life and lifestyle - encapsulated by achievement, wealth, and social status - are available to anyone provided you try hard enough".

Perfectionism is seemingly taking its toll on the mental health of millennials. The increase in perfectionism may in part be affecting the psychological health of students, said Andrew Hill, PhD, of York St John University in the United Kingdom, citing higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than a decade ago.

Modern-day students, the study found, display more characteristics of three types of perfectionism.

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They also looked at the changes in levels of perfectionism from the 1980s to 2016 and found that college students today scored higher in all types of perfectionism compared with college students in the past.

Millennials also tend to exhibit these traits in their careers as social media and peer pressure drive them to earn more money and set unrealistic career goals. One relatively new factor involves exposure to social media; data suggests social media may pressure young adult to excessively compare themselves to others, which makes them dissatisfied with their bodies and increases social isolation.

"The extent to which young people attach an irrational importance to being ideal, hold unrealistic expectations of themselves, and are highly self-critical has increased by 10 percent", the study reads.

Curran and his co-author, Andrew Hill of York St John University, point to several cultural developments as possible contributors to the rise in perfectionism.

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"These findings suggest that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations", Curran said. Yet, although increasing numbers of young people are going to college (more than 80 percent of high school graduates in 2008 compared with about 50 percent in 1976), the wage premium associated with an undergraduate college degree has stagnated over the past 20 years, they add. The authors recommend that schools and policymakers stop fostering competition among younger generations in an effort to preserve their good mental health. "Because of the pressure kids are under, parents also feel pressure because they want their kids to be successful".

Parents, too, have been swept up in the unrealistic expectations of today's culture.

According to him, these examples signify the rise of meritocracy among millennials, where the students are motivated by the universities to compete in order to move up the social and economic ladders. British college students are apparently the least demanding of others, reporting lower levels of other-oriented perfectionism than Canadian or American peers.

The study was published online recently in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

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