Safety Doc Podcast #57: Irrational Desire for Perfection or Dread of Social Failure – Why are Younger Adults are so Depressed?

PODCAST – The overwhelming pursuit of perfection is driving young people into increased levels of depression and anxiety per a Yahoo article that referenced a study of over 41,000 college students between 1989-2016 in America, Canada and Great Britain.  (Parker, 2018). In this episode of The Safety Doc Podcast, Dr. Perrodin centers his analysis and discussion on personal psychological safety as he affirms and challenges claims of the article, and identifies linkages to the school setting.

DIRECT LINK to MP3 of this Episode:


The authors broadly define perfectionism “as a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.”  Findings suggest that kids these days are more obsessed with perfection than many previous generations were, and this obsession is associated with increased depression and anxiety.


Dr. Perrodin cautions that a single study has limitations and becomes stronger when analyzed in conjunction with similar studies. Nonetheless, this study has stand-alone merit as it was conducted with 164 samples for a total of 41,641 students in 3 countries over a duration of 25 years.  The article states that the perfection dilemma is “worst” in the US.  Dr. Perrodin tempers that claim as only 3 “First World” countries participated in the study and the countries have democratic governments and similar societal structures.


The research presents three reasons for this shift: the rise of neoliberalism, increasingly anxious and controlling parents, and the increasing power of meritocracy.  OK, word salad alert!  The Safety Doc is going to describe these reasons per practical observations of everyday life. Neoliberalism is the free market. It means that the “forever” jobs of the 1970s are behind us. This is the age of Fiverr, where people from across the globe advertise their services and competition limits one can charge, but positive reviews and niche, high-quality work can also bring great demand for your skills.  The latter part is meritocracy, or meaning that individual’s skills determine the demand for their compensation.  This can be frightening, as the thought of a stable job with a single employer is morphing into free agent contractors.  Yet, it is liberating as you can cultivate multiple income streams and play to your strengths as long as those strengths have a market demand.  I know a 20-year-old man that narrates books and does other professional voice over work.  He has a backlog of requests and has accordingly increased his fees.  His services have received very positive reviews, he is diligent with his clients, and works from home.  Finally, parents are anxious and controlling as was pointed out in the recent Safety Doc Podcast about Ohio parents canceling an 8th grade field trip to DC over fears of terrorism.  That act sent a precise message to those youth, “You are safe(r) at home.  Do not engage in reconnaissance.  We’ll teach you all you need to know about what lies beyond the city limits.”


Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist specializing in family and relationship issues, singles out another important factor: social media. “These people grew up being constantly evaluated on social media,” she points out. So what’s so bad about striving to be perfect? It can lead to increased depression and anxiety. “Research among college students and young people, for example, has found self-oriented perfectionism to be positively associated with clinical depression, anorexia nervosa, and early death,” the study authors point out. “It is also associated with greater physiological reactivity (e.g., elevated blood pressure) and ill-being (e.g., negative affect) in response to life stress and failure.” Researchers even identified a link with suicidal ideation.


Dr. Perrodin is not on Facebook and even laughs when his friends say, “I couldn’t find you on social media – what’s up with that?” Well, that’s the point. One is not obligated to participate in social media.  It is optional.  Each of us has a choice.  That point is lost in the article, argues Dr. Perrodin, that every person has a choice to be captive to social media.  We are framing social media as an addiction and preparing to label it as a medical condition as the groundwork was recently laid when the American Psychiatric Association gave sanctified Internet Gaming Disorder.  Really?  Does the teen that reads 3 novels a week have a Literacy Consumption Disorder?  Remove the game from the gamer or book from the reader and my hunch is the withdrawals manifestations would be strikingly similar…


Perfection is a myth as nothing, by scientific definition or empirical measure, is perfect.  Engineers have objective tolerances for bridge constructions.  And then there’s subjective perfection which is 100% vanity and a “consensus” reality.  But, in reality, most people are intentionally programmed what to think, injected with bursts of dopamine celebratory moments for accomplishing nothing as self-introspection is buried alongside the art of debate.  By the way, it means nothing to me if this post is liked or shared on social media.


The following are samples from the public comment forum for this article.  Strong themes that presented in the forum included:

  • Nothing is perfect so don’t worry about it.
  • The older generation is more competent than the younger generation.
  • Social media is horrible.
  • Agency and purpose is experienced by creating things of value – be it tending a garden or helping others.
  • Failure equates to a flawed person.  

“Most important, life is not perfect. It is messy and imperfect. It is ok for things to be imperfect.”

“Ah the good old days of watching a small screen Black & White TV, have to get up and change the channel be lucky if you can get at least a good 4 or 6 channels, depending where you lived and bang on the side of the TV to receive good reception. AM Transistor Radios, later AM/FM. Rotary Landline Phones and Public Phone Booths. The youth of today could not survive that. I did and I could survive that if we went back to it.”

“That’s because the social media culture is all about ‘look at me look at me’ and when no one is looking at you, they get depressed. Social media as an outlet has morphed into a horrible thing. Humans abuse and twist everything into something awful.”

“The problem with a lot of these kids is simply that they don’t know how to lose. They were never provided with the tools to cope with failure. Unfortunately the ability to overcome and learn from failure is mandatory for success. Their inability to deal with adversity is a huge roadblock.”

“What is driving people into depression is the fact that they don’t do anything. They sit and watch videos, videogames , text and never really have to do anything. Now they don’t know how to do anything. Ask any of them to change a tire? Plant a garden, do anything real. When you can’t really do anything you should be depressed.”

“Having been a hiring manager for 25 years I have first hand knowledge that the young adults of today are not striving for “perfection”, they are petrified of social failure. They don’t want to become the best person they’re capable of for the good of those that depend on them, so they can make a difference. It’s all about “how would it look…”. Give them a comfort puppy and some real responsibility. Oh yea…and take away smartphones until they graduate high school.”

“I am on the older spectrum of millenial age group and I agree that social media plays a part in how we are. I will add though that when I was in school there was huge pressure to go to college. We were told that if you didn’t you would never be anybody. You would be worthless to society. We were fed huge dreams that if we majored in anything that we would be successful adults and make money. A lot of educators and parents are responsible for how this generation turned out. My peers didn’t have jobs in high school. Their parents bought them new cars in exchange for just taking out the garbage or good grades. So many grew up book smart but we’re not instilled with street smarts. How to function properly as an adult is not taught at all. Fresh out of college with high hopes we hadn’t a clue how to balance a checkbook, apply for a job, work on our cars, etc. because society, educators, parents failed to give us a chance to learn. We are a product of previous generation that failed to educate us in basic life skills and now it’s up to snowflakes to figure it out or give up. When the lazy label is pointed at our back constantly we have become terrified of failure thus we never learn.”


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Dr. Perrodin’s “Safety Doc Podcast” negotiates school and community safety. To be informed about industrial safety, please contact Appalachian State University Professor Dr. Timothy Ludwig, PhD, at

Resource cited:

The “irrational desire” driving millennials and Gen Z into depression” by Maggie Parker. (2018). Yahoo Lifestyle. Retrieved from


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