Millennials are at higher risk for mental health issues. This may be why.

The results are higher levels of anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of suicide.

Millennials are experiencing higher levels of anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide than generations past. Many reasons have been offered but none definitive, until now. A new study finds that this generation carries much higher levels of perfectionism, and that these elevated expectations may be to blame. British researchers came to these conclusions, which were published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.


Since the 1980s, governments and their adjacent societies in the US, UK, and Canada, have focused on individual improvement, both in the economic and social sphere. Since then, people in these countries have been working on themselves, forever striving for self-improvement, particularly in the forms of higher educational and career attainment, and better social standing. But what cost comes with putting all that emphasis on individual achievement?

According to Thomas Curran, from the University of Bath and Andrew Hill, of York St. John University, the results are being seen with this latest generation, the Millennials (ages 18-35). This generation feels overburdened with a perfectionist streak unknown to their parents or grandparents.

In their paper, researchers define perfectionism as "a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations." It isn't simple perfectionism doing Millennials in but “multidimensional perfectionism," meaning these young adults feel pressure to measure up to an ever-growing number of criteria. Striving to reach impossible standards increases the risk of anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, and even suicidal ideation.

Millennials are more perfectionist than the past two generations, and this may be leading to higher incidents of mental health issues. Credit: Getty Images.

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 41,641 college students in the US, the UK, and Canada. Each completed a metric known as the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale. This tests for three different types.

The first is self-oriented perfectionism, which is an irrational need for one's self to reach an overly ambitious goal. The second is socially prescribed perfectionism or pressure from others to achieve the loftiest of heights, and the third is other-oriented perfectionism, or having unrealistic expectations of others. This study also looked at how perfectionism has changed over decades, beginning in the 1980s.

The data revealed that Millennials experience all three types of perfectionism, and these scores were higher than with college students in the past. Comparing this with scores from past cohorts, Hill and Curran found that self-oriented perfectionism increased 10% from 1989 to 2016. External pressure perfectionism increased 33% in that same time period. And external perfectionism shot up 16%.

So why the increase? Greater competitiveness, a continued focus on individualism, and overbearing and anxious parents may be why. Higher educational demands and the need to find a job that earns a significant salary, also lead to an inflated need for perfection.

Neoliberal meritocracy itself in this view, comes at a cost. "Meritocracy," Curran said, "places a strong need for young people to strive, perform, and achieve in modern life. Young people are responding by reporting increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves. As a result, perfectionism is rising among millennials."

Social media may also be playing a role. Credit: Getty Images.

In 1976, 50% of high school seniors said they planned to graduate from college. By 2008, 80% planned on doing so. "These findings suggest that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations," Curran said. "Today's young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected, and of worth."

Social media too may be exerting its influence. Seeing peers portrayed with perfect bodies, achieving noteworthy goals, or modeling RomCom-worthy relationships, increases feelings of insecurity, and so ramps up competitiveness and the desire to do well. The drawbacks are a propensity toward mental health issues, body issues and even, social isolation. One drawback to the study, it offers few ways to take the pressure off Millennials, besides professors, supervisors, and parents making light of academic and career-oriented tasks, when they instead might turn the screws to increase performance.

Curran and Hill conclude that, “American, Canadian, and British cultures have become more individualistic, materialistic, and socially antagonistic over this period, with young people now facing more competitive environments, more unrealistic expectations, and more anxious and controlling parents than generations before."

Truth is, there is no such thing as perfection. And we learn far more from our failures than we ever do our successes. So instead of trying to be perfect, it might be best to perfect how to learn from the times we come up short.

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The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity

Image: The Pudding
Strange Maps
  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
  • And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
  • If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist

Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...

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