New research suggests perfectionism may be a bigger risk factor in suicide than experts had previously imagined.
Researchers from York University in Canada believe clinical guidelines should include perfectionism as a separate factor for suicide risk assessment and intervention.
“There is an urgent need for looking at perfectionism with a person-centered approach as an individual and societal risk factor, when formulating clinical guidelines for suicide risk assessment and intervention, as well as public health approaches to suicide prevention,” said psychologist and researcher Dr. Gordon Flett.
More than one million people worldwide, including over 40,000 North Americans, commit suicide annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2012 estimation.
In a research article, Flett and his co-authors note that physicians, lawyers, and architects, whose occupations emphasize precision, as well as those in leadership roles, are at higher risk for perfectionism-related suicide.
Study authors also cited several recent cases of prominent perfectionists who died by suicide.
Their article is published in the American Psychological Association journal, Review of General Psychology.
In the article, investigators highlight several concerns, including how suicidal thoughts can be linked to external pressures to be perfect.
The authors document how being exposed to relentless demands to be perfect, a concept they refer to as socially prescribed perfectionism, is linked consistently with hopelessness and suicide.
Other key themes discussed are how perfectionistic self-presentation and self-concealment can lead to suicides that occur without warning, and how perfectionists often come up with thorough and precise suicide plans.
“We summarize data showing consistent links between perfectionism and hopelessness and discuss the need for an individualized approach that recognizes the heightened risk for perfectionists,” Flett said.
“They also tend to experience hopelessness, psychological pain, life stress, overgeneralization, and a form of emotional perfectionism that restricts the willingness to disclose suicidal urges and intentions.”
The researchers believe it is essential to proactively design preventive programs tailored to key personality features.
The model should include specific components to enhance resilience and reduce levels of risk among perfectionists who hide behind a mask of apparent invulnerability.