How Perfectionism Became a Hidden Epidemic Among Young People
Thomas Curran, Andrew Hill, 5 Jan 18
       

Shutterstock

In our roles as academics, young people knock on our doors almost every day. They are typically ambitious, bright and hard-working. They have a broad network of friends, and most come from supportive families. Yet no matter how well-adjusted they can appear, we are finding that our students are increasingly likely to seek our support for mental health issues, as well as academic ones.

We are not alone in observing this trend. Student mental illness on UK campuses is at record highs. And right across the globe, young people are reporting to clinicians at unprecedented levels with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

One possible reason for this is that across the US, Canada and the UK, today’s young people are the first generation to grow up in a society based on the principles of neoliberalism championed by the leaders of the late 20th century – Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney and Margaret Thatcher respectively. Over the last 50 years, communal interest and civic responsibility have been progressively eroded, replaced by a focus on self-interest and competition in a supposedly free and open market place.

In this new market-based society, young people are evaluated in a host of new ways. Social media, school and university testing and job performance assessments mean young people can be sifted, sorted and ranked by peers, teachers and employers. If young people rank poorly, the logic of our market-based society dictates that they are less deserving – that their inferiority reflects some personal weakness or flaw.

There is, then, enormous pressure on young people to demonstrate their value and outperform their peers. And there is evidence that they are struggling to cope. In particular, emerging epidemics of serious mental illnesses speak to the negative effects of this market-based society, and a culture which is fundamentally changing the way young people think about themselves and others.

The rise of perfectionism

Leading psychologists, Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett have suggested that one of the ways in which younger people are acting differently to their older peers is by showing a greater tendency toward perfectionism.

Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections.

Perfectionists need to be told that they have achieved the best possible outcomes, whether that’s through scores and metrics, or other peoples’ approval. When this need is not met, they experience psychological turmoil, because they equate mistakes and failure to inner weakness and unworthiness.

We recently published a study in the Psychological Bulletin, which shows that levels of perfectionism have risen significantly among young people since 1989. We think that this may, at least in part, be a symptom of the way that young people are attempting to feel safe, connect with others and find self-worth within market-based, neoliberal societies.

Sign in to view full article

       
The Future: Making Singapore an Elder-Friendly Place
The government aims to make Singapore “an inclusive elder-friendly place” and the first step starts from the elders’ flats.
Jocelyn Neo
Mon, 2 Jan 17
How To Build a More Organic Internet (And Stand Up to Corporations)
Internet access has become such a necessary tool for participating in society that it has been declared a “human right” ...
Panayotis Antoniadis
Fri, 3 Feb 17
Searching Deep and Dark: Building A Google for The Less Visible Parts of The Web
In today’s data-rich world, companies, governments and individuals want to analyze anything and everything they can get their hands on ...
Christian Mattmann
Wed, 11 Jan 17
Holocaust of the 21st Century
In all other countries, recipients wait for organs. But in China, organs wait for recipients. This is only possible if ...
Richard A. Lyons
Mon, 2 Jan 17
Use Your Body, Not WiFi, to Transmit Secure Passwords
Sending a password or secret code over airborne radio waves like WiFi or Bluetooth means anyone can eavesdrop, including hackers.
Jennifer Langston
Fri, 6 Jan 17
Get your January/February 2018 issue at Kinokuniya stores today!
An Epoch Times Survey
An Epoch Times Survey
Sports Elements
Read about Forced Organ Harvesting
Sports Elements