Perfectionism a major issue for millennials and linked to mental health issues, study finds

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Previous research has found that those who strive for unrealistic levels of perfectionism are more likely to experience a variety of health issues, including anorexia, bulimia, social phobia, anxiety, depression and others.

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According to a new study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, millennials are measurably harder on themselves when it comes to perfectionism compared to previous generations.

The study is based on the idea that neoliberal governance in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom since the 1980s has led to competitive individualism, encouraging people “to perfect themselves and their lifestyles.”

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Researchers wanted to know whether those cultural changes coincided with an increase in "multidimensional perfectionism" in college students over the last 27 years. Multidimensional perfectionism refers to perfectionism driven by unrealistically high expectations rooted from the self, society and other sources.

Scientists examined more than 40,000 American, British and Canadian college students ages 18 to 25 for the study and found that the recent generation of young people "perceive that others are more demanding of them, are more demanding of others, and are more demanding of themselves."

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The study also linked this increase in perfectionism with record-setting cases of rising mental illnesses in the age group, including anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Authors Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill mention social media as being partially at fault, but note that changes in parenting practices are also a factor.

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“Should a young person be unable to navigate an increasingly competitive social milieu, then it is not just their failure, it is also the parents’ failure too,” researchers wrote. “This internalized concern for one’s child’s success has been labeled child-contingent self-esteem.”

The study is the first to examine generational differences in perfectionism in college students, but the study population is limited in its demographics. For example, much of the cohort is white and from higher socioeconomic backgrounds than the general population.

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Read the full study at apa.org.