Millennials,perfectionism and mental health Issues

If you’re a millennial, also known as a Gen Y, you were born between 1977 and 1995, between 23 to 41 years now. Data indicates that earlier millennials are more at risk of experiencing mental health issues.

Researchers, Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill studied more than 40,000 millennials aged between 18 and 25 and found that the majority of them showed signs of what they termed ‘multidimensional perfectionism’.The term refers to perfectionism linked to having unrealistically high expectations. For millennials, these high expectations are considered to be linked to an increase in the chances of developing mental health issues such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.

Researchers grouped perfectionism into three categories:

  • the irrational desire to be perfect (self-perfection)
  • a perceived pressure from others to be perfect
  • having unrealistic expectations of others

The study found that self-perfection jumped 10% between 1989 and 2016. During this time, scores for perceived pressure to be perfect increased 33% and scores for unrealistic expectations of others jumped 16%.

The germination of perfectionism

The 1980’s saw the rise of motivational speakers touting that anyone could be anything if they focused on what they wanted and worked hard to get it. The theme was about being better, striving to earn more, personal achievement, materialism, accumulating successes and individualism. By the end of the 80’s, the era of community and collectivism and what’s in the best interest of others, had come to an end.

In the decades that followed governments focused on economic, education and social individualism and personal advancement. Social media platforms, vlogging and online videos drove the ideology that people can be perfect and lead perfect lives: expensive houses, manicured bodies, perfect wardrobes and expensive cars. TV shows led us to believe the there were real life Ken and Barbies living in the Barbie mansion and that any 20-something-year-old can have a marketing job and a top-of-the-range Merc convertible.

The millennial need for perfectionism – justified or not?

In 1976, 50% of high school seniors reported that they intended on continuing and graduating from tertiary education. By 2008, 80% planned on doing so. These findings suggest that the more recent decades have bought higher expectations of individual achievement. Increased numbers of people completing tertiary studies are likely to result in greater competition for professional job vacancies. Perhaps millennials are justified in a need to value high expectations and increased perfectionism when it comes to professional development and career security.

When it comes to the millennial’s personal realm, is the need for perfectionism justified or a false perception? Evolutionary and brain science tells us that comparing ourselves to others, on some level, is exactly what our brain is designed to do. This is how we interpret and learn social norms, to fit in and to be accepted by our community; this is a basic survival mechanism to protect us from being outcasted by the clan. However, this mechanism is for community acceptance and comparing our lives to those on social media.

Mental health issues caused by perfectionism

To adopt the idea of perfectionism and maintaining high expectations because of how others present is likely to result in the millennial having an increased chance of developing mental health issues. To return to the study mentioned earlier:

  • The irrational desire to be perfect (self-perfection). Perfection in reality is an unattainable goal. Every millennial’s circumstances, background, values, goals for the future, personality, desires, abilities and available options are different. Therefore, to benchmark oneself or one’s place in life against those of another, is likely to be problematic and increase the chance of one developing anxiety, low self-esteem and a range of other mental health issues.
  • A perceived pressure from others to be perfect. If you are a millennial and believe you live in a place of perfectionism to please others then this is something you need to investigate further. For example, if you are striving to achieve results to please parents who are paying for tertiary education then there’s a need for open discussion. However,if you are attempting to live under high expectations and perfectionism for friends or to compare yourself to colleagues, then that may require deeper psychological processing to uncover why this is important to you. Perhaps you may establish that there is some low self-esteem presenting or some other driving force as to why you feel a need to perform for others.
  • Having unrealistic expectations of others. Being truly emotionally and psychologically content usually does not create a need to have unrealistically high expectations of others. If you are a millennial and believe you have unusually high expectations and a need to see perfectionism in those around you, perhaps there is a need for further investigation – you may be experiencing low self-esteem or anxiety that can be overcome.

The final outcome

If you’re in the millennial age bracket and you feel like you may be open to mental health issues such as anxiety or low self-esteem, do some self-exploration and consider consultation with a professional – the journey will be worth it.