Perfection obsession is up by more than a third

January 3rd 2018 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru / 0 comment

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And it could have serious ramifications for the mental health of future generations

A new study conducted among 40,000 British, Canadian and American students from 1989 to 2017 has shown that the obsession with perfection among young people has risen by more than 30 per cent over the last 30 years.

The study conducted by the University of Bath and York St John University found a worrying disparity between current and previous generations, with a 10 per cent increase having been shown in the degree that the young attach an irrational importance on being perfect, are highly self-critical and hold unrealistic standards of themselves. Additionally, 33 per cent are more likely to feel that others judge them harshly and find their environment excessively demanding.

The findings also found that these unrealistic expectations are not just affecting how they view themselves, but others too. "Young people are trying to find ways to cope with a sense of increasing demands being placed on them and they are responding by becoming more perfectionistic towards themselves and others," co-author Dr Andrew Hill of York St John University stated. The extent that these standards are being imposed on others was shown to have grown by 16 per cent. The research group behind the study has been involved in studies examining the increasing relationship between burnout and perfectionism and the way things are going, it looks like we could be dealing with a ticking time bomb where our mental health is concerned.

Competitive drivers have been highlighted by the authors as a key factor behind the significant increases. As lead author Dr Thomas Curran from the University of Bath's Department for Health points out: "Rising rates of perfectionism highlighted in this study coincide with three decades of neoliberalism, which has compelled young people to compete against each other within increasingly demanding social and economic parameters."

This need to compete from an early age certainly resonates with me. I’m not a competitive person by nature, yet the constant pressure to strive to be better at school and university instilled a belief in me that whatever I achieved never seemed to be enough. There was always a division to go up in, a subtle grade improvement that would make a uni shift from fantasy to reality, an extra-curricular activity to join that would make all the difference to my application...I was born in 1986 and felt the effects, and (thankfully) was just outside the social media boom. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who were born after me - the pressure to compete with the those in real life is one thing, on a screen, it's a whole new dimension.

With levels of self-harm having starkly increased in the young (with stress, insecurity and low self-esteem having been highlighted as key reasons), the findings add to an already highly concerning mental health issue that needs addressing. "The increase in mental health difficulties among young people makes for a compelling backdrop for our findings,” says Dr Andrew Hill of York St John University. "It may be that higher levels of perfectionism is a key contributing factor to such difficulties.”

What can policymakers, schools and universities do to help decrease these stats? Dr Thomas Curran hopes they "resist the promotion of competitiveness at the expense of young people's psychological health". Hopefully it won’t take another 30 years to reverse.

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