Perfectionism and its Impact on Student Mental Health and Achievement

Pride Surveys_Perfectionism and Student Mental Health Blog
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At Pride Surveys, our mission is driven by our commitment to work with our community partners and education coalitions to provide data, research, and resources surrounding and focusing on the issues affecting today’s youth and adolescents. Data collection is imperative in informing parents, students, educators, and community coalitions about how to have healthy students. This month we are focusing on perfectionism and its impact on student mental health and achievement.

We’re focusing on how the consequences of perfectionism often lead to stress and anxiety and ultimately impact student mental health and achievement. While we hear the phrase “I’m/he/she is a perfectionist” often, perfectionism in and of itself is not simply a matter of having high standards. Instead, most researchers define it as having three elements:  First, someone holds unreasonable, if not impossibly high, standards. Second, they judge their own efforts, merits, and awards (and, many time, other people’s as well) with strong criticism. Finally, they base their sense of worth and self-esteem on whether or not those standards are met. They minimize their achievements and focus most of their time and effort on perceived flaws.

In a Canadian study, authors “tracked 604 teens from seventh to 12th grade and looked to examine both the relationship and typical sequence of events between academic achievement and perfectionism.” Researchers ultimately defined perfectionism as a “maladaptive personality style” involving self-sanctioned high standards linked to the development of anxiety and depression.

That particular study resulted in a concerning conclusion that proved most teens who consistently excel in their academic grades ultimately develop an unhealthy range of perfectionistic behaviors and manners. Across the board, researchers say good grades predicted higher perfectionism with every future year as well, with a correlation to higher amounts of anxiety and stress.

Perfectionism usually shows up differently from person to person, depending upon the above factors. Perfectionist behavior typically falls into two categories: behaviors that help perfectionists maintain their unreasonably high standards and those that support them avoid situations that remind them of their need to be perfect.

The outcomes of perfectionism range from a rigid, unyielding need for control to depression, anxiety, and suicidality which all ultimately impact achievement and mental health. What’s interesting about perfectionists is that they may fall into a character where they spend needless amounts of time on a paper or work task, or the complete opposite can happen as well. They avoid challenging situations entirely if they don’t think they can do them perfectly.

Often, people wonder if perfectionism is a disorder. Currently, it is not classified as one. Rather, it is a tendency or an outcome that underlies other mental health disorders like anxiety or depression. Perfectionism and mental health are then related in the sense that perfectionism plays a role in the development and continuation of many severe mental health conditions, like high functioning anxiety, when someone experiences anxiety symptoms but still usually functions in their daily lives, such as work and school. The person afflicted may even appear calm and confident to others, but underneath the surface, their inner voice obsessively speaks with fear, worry, and harsh self-talk about what they need to do or haven’t done well.

For parents, it becomes crucial to learn how to respond and react to your child and/or teenager if you think they are struggling with perfectionism and its mental health consequences. Emphasize trying versus perfection. Children notoriously take cues from their parents when it comes to perfectionism. If your child thinks a parent thrives on perfection, they will likely strive to be “perfect” to gain approval.

In addition, when a parent does talk to their child about performance, try to hone in on the new skills the child is learning and the areas where they are improving. By focusing on the process of learning and the process, it mitigates solely stressing over achievement.

Suppose you would like more information or notice signs of cyber or any type of bullying, behavioral stress, depression, addiction, or other mental health-related issues in your student or child. In that case, bringing in professionals and/or counselors is critical. If your community or school requires data collection to determine the mental health issues that may be occurring, please reach out to the Pride Surveys team. We offer many options to fit various needs.


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