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Perfectionism can play role in suicidal thoughts: Halifax researcher

Trying to meet impossibly high standards can result in serious depression, says Dalhousie University clinical psychologist.

Dalhousie University.

The Canadian Press

Dalhousie University.

A Dalhousie University researcher is exploring how a perfectionism can be a “potential killer.”

Simon Sherry, registered clinical psychologist and associate professor at the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University, said his team has compiled the available evidence on perfectionism and suicide into a comprehensive summary.

“The contribution of perfectionism to suicide is under-recognized and misunderstood, so we are trying to close the gap between what people believe and what science indicates,” Sherry said.

“We are also looking to … to tell psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and other helping professionals about the potential risks attached to perfectionism. Our research would suggest that perfectionism is a potential killer.”

He said there are several specific factors that link perfectionism to suicide: relationship problems indicating a strong sense of disconnection from other people, unrelenting self criticism since “good enough is never good enough,” high stress, and hopelessness.

“(They) often feel chronically dissatisfied or even hopeless about their likelihood of getting their desired perfect future that they want,” said Sherry.

He also said there is a very strong link to eating disorders, as perfectionists are very self-critical of their body.

“We know that perfectionists generate a lot of stress as they go about their day to day lives, and that stress may lead them more susceptible to a wide range of negative outcomes: depression, anxiety, disordered eating and suicide,” Sherry said.

He said the hardest thing about perfectionists is that they often delay seeking necessary help, because in doing so they have to admit they are imperfect.

However, Sherry urges anyone who is feeling suicidal to seek help. He said an appropriate first place would be their family doctor, or a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.

Sherry said it’s a topic of great relevance as suicide claims one life about every 45 seconds around the world.

“Seeking help is very important,” Sherry said.

He said treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy or psychodynamic therapy of perfectionism have been found to work, since the initial results look favourable.

“It does seem possible to change around some of the destructive aspects of perfectionism,” he said.

How to get help:

If you’re in crisis, go to the nearest hospital, call 911, or call the province’s crisis line at 1-888-429-8167 (toll free), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you’re looking for programs and services, or information about mental health, contact the Canadian Mental Health Association at 1-877-466-6606 (toll free).

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