Lonely girl in a city

The pursuit of perfection results in illness among young people

More and more young people in Sweden suffer from illness. Most commonly occurring is stress, but many also suffer from other psychological or physical problems.

In a new dissertation from Linnaeus University, the sociologist Lina Hiltunen shows that young people's experiences of illness is largely based on their everyday struggle to maintain their social status among people their own age.

"Many young people strive to demonstrate the perfect life. This creates stress and illness", says Linda Hiltunen.

The study demonstrates that both those who live up to norms of perfection and those who for some reason have been excluded are not feeling well. Linda Hiltunen describes this as the tyranny of perfectionism, which affects the health of young people negatively.

"The constant strive for perfection ensures that you never feel satisfied – you never reach all the way", Hiltunen continues.

Girls are feeling the worst. The study demonstrates clear differences between girls and boys. In her dissertation, Linda has investigated how gender is constructed in relations between young people and show that these constructions result in girls reporting more illness than boys.

"For instance, girls experience higher demands than boys on their looks, their ability to adapt, being available to others and being successful at school", explains Linda Hiltunen.

The study also shows that young people work constantly to avoid and deal with difficult situations and emotions. However, resources to avoid and handle illness are unevenly distributed between different groups of young people. Young people who have ended up outside established groups of friends or who experience difficulties within several areas of life are particularly vulnerable and often feel very bad.

"The study is a very important contribution to the understanding of young people's health. It demonstrates how the norm of perfections is a strongly contributing factor to young people feeling worse and worse", Linda Hiltunen concludes.

More information about the dissertation

In Lagom perfekt [Perfect enough], Linda Hiltunen's doctoral thesis in sociology, upper secondary school pupils have gotten the opportunity to talk about the causes of illness and in what way they handle health challenges in their everyday lives. The conclusions of the dissertation are based on a selection of 497 upper secondary school pupils. These have answered a traditional health survey in combination with writing about their experiences of illness in anonymised essays. In addition, interviews have been carried out with a limited number of the study's participants.

Hiltunen, Linda (2017). Lagom perfekt. Erfarenheter av ohälsa bland unga tjejer och killer. Lund: Arkiv förlag, IBSN: 978-91-7924-287-9.

Contact information

Linda Hiltunen, +4673-846 29 56, linda.hiltunen@lnu.se
Josefin Fägerås, communications officer, +46470-70 80 45, josefin.fageras@lnu.se