Perfectionism As A Risk Factor For Suicide

Posted on July 28, 2017

In 1995 the late psychologist Sidney Blatt highlighted the apparent link between perfectionism and suicide in an influential article for American Psychologist titled “The Destructiveness of Perfectionism” in which he profiled three highly talented, ambitious but harshly self-critical individuals all of whom took their own lives: Vincent Foster, a deputy counsel to President Bill Clinton; writer, singer and broadcaster Alasdair Clayre; and athlete and scholar Roger D Hansen.

However, since Blatt’s paper, research progress on the topic has been slow, hampered in part by a confusing multitude of definitions of perfectionism and a paucity of studies with the longitudinal methodology needed to establish that perfectionist tendencies increase suicidal risk. But now, writing in Journal of Personality, a team led by Martin Smith at the University of Ontario say there is enough data to conduct a “meta-analysis”, which is what they’ve done, producing “the most comprehensive test of the perfectionism-suicidality link to date”.

Overall, the analysis showed that 13 of the 15 different measures of perfectionism had associations with increased suicidal thoughts (in statistical terms the effect size was small to moderate). Aspects of perfectionism related to concerns about meeting others’ expectations were additionally associated with making more suicide attempts. Meanwhile, holding others to high standards, and being perfectionist in terms of tidiness and organisation, were not related to suicidal thoughts or attempts.

“Perfectionists,” the researchers explained, “are their own worst critics … locked in an endless loop of self-defeating over-striving in which each new task is another opportunity for harsh self-rebuke, disappointment, and failure.”

Category(s):Suicide Prevention

Source material from BPS Research Digest

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