The toll of perfectionism


Brilliant athlete, star student and popular, Madison Holleran’s life looked picture perfect. Yet on the eve of Jan 17th, Madison leaped off the ninth level of a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia. She was 19 years old.

Holleran was just one of six Penn students to commit suicide in a 13-month stretch. However, the school is far from the only one to experience a so-called suicide cluster.

Nationally, the suicide rate among 15- to 24-year-olds has increased steadily since 2007: from 9.6 deaths per 100,000 to 11.1, in 2013. The National Survey of College Counseling Centers at Pennsylvania State University has revealed that 52 percent of clients had a severe psychological problems, an increase of 8 percent from just last year. About 89 percent of directors noticed an increase of anxiety disorders over the past five years.


Researchers are just beginning to explore the complexities of perfectionism and its association to health. Studies show that the personality trait of perfectionism is linked to poor mental and physical health, and an increased risk of death.

Perfectionism has a flip side that goes beyond setting high standards: a negative side involving more lethal factors, such as doubts and concerns over minor mistakes and feeling pressured to be perfect.

Dr. Anthony L. Rostain, a pediatric psychiatrist on Penn’s faculty, explains that perfectionists often see any failure as shameful, undermining their feelings of value as a person. A failed attempt isn’t just an isolated bad performance to them; it means they’re a failure.

Stress amongst teenagers

A survey by the American Psychological Association uncovered some worrying facts about teenage stress, some of which are outlined below:

  • Nearly half of all teens (45 percent) described feeling stressed by school pressures
  • 45 percent of teens, aged 13‐17, worried more the current year
  • Children are nearly two times were more likely to admit being worried about their family’s financial difficulties than their parents thought
  • 44 percent of all children aged 8 to 17 reported performing academically well as a source of anxiety
  • 29 percent of children aged 13 – 17 reported worrying over getting into a good college and deciding future plans
  • 36 percent of children reported headaches in the past month
  • 34 percent children reported having eaten too much or too little in the past month

Recent suicidal trends among students have propelled many educational and mental health agencies to join hands for the betterment of students’ futures.

About the author

Sana Ahmed is a  journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family.    

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