Too perfect to be healthy?

The project involves 13-16-years old students in talent development sports schools, classical music and ballet classes, and mainstream students. Three conducted studies involve e.g., performance expectations, perfectionism, anxiety, depressive symptoms, body concerns, self-worth, and resilience


Formal title

Too perfect to be healthy?


The purpose of the doctoral project is to contribute further knowledge about young students at different school types and these students’ perfectionism and mental health (quantitative studies), as well as their experiences with performance expectations (qualitative study). Few studies have involved the very young (13-16 years old) Norwegian talent development school students and their mental health. Hence, knowledge from this project may contribute with new insight that can help in tailoring recommendations for practices and provide knowledge that can help inform those who run different schools.

The project is funded by DAM Stiftelsen through The Norwegian Council for Mental Health (NCMH).


This doctoral project includes two quantitative studies: 1) A cross-sectional study (8th grade) in which we examined perfectionism profiles related to mental health (i.e., anxiety, depressive symptoms, body concerns, self-worth, and resilience) among lower secondary school students from talent development (TD) schools in sports and TD classes in classical music and ballet, and mainstream students, and 2) a prospective study (8th-10th grade) where we examined mental health profiles based on anxiety and depressive symptoms, body concerns and self-worth, and the mental health profiles’ association with self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism. In study 3, we interviewed (face-to-face) 27 9th-grade students in TD sports schools and classical music and ballet about how they experience their own and others’ expectations and how such expectations affect them in their respective activities and everyday life.


Study 1. We identified five perfectionism profiles in students aged 13-14 that were differently related to adverse and positive mental health indicators. Students with a profile dominant by socially prescribed perfectionism, concerns over mistakes, doubts about actions, and parental expectations and criticism (i.e., perfectionistic concerns dominant profile) and a profile of co-occurring high levels of self-oriented perfectionism and perfectionistic concerns (high mixed perfectionism) fared worse, i.e., higher anxiety, depression, weight-shape concerns, and lower self-worth and resilience, compared to students with a profile dominant of self-oriented perfectionism and non-perfectionism. Approximately two out of ten student performers and four out of ten regular students were characterized by the two most debilitating profiles.

Study 2. Four mental health profiles (distressed-body concerned, dissatisfied, moderate mentally healthy, mentally healthy) showed distinct patterns of co-occurring anxiety, depression, weight-shape concerns, and self-worth. The two least healthy profiles revealed relatively high proportions with co-occurring high-above or above average anxiety, depressive symptoms, weight-shape concerns, and low-below or below average self-worth, i.e., distressed-body concerned profile, 9-11%, and the dissatisfied mental health profile, 26-31%, at 8th-10th grade respectively. Mental health profile stability was high overall (72–93%) from age 13 to 16. The highest proportion of talent development (TD) schoolboys was in the mentally healthy, TD girls and regular schoolboys were in the moderate, and most regular schoolgirls were in the dissatisfied mental health profile. Noteworthy profile transitions: TD boys who transitioned were likely changing to healthier and girls to unhealthier profiles. Unhealthier profiles were associated with socially prescribed perfectionism.

Study 3. The complexities of TD students’ experiences with self-oriented and socially attributed expectations from coaches/teachers and parents – and the adolescents’ struggles with balancing these expectations were illustrated through four main themes. Overall, most young performers experienced the expectations as stimulating them to work hard for performance progress and future opportunities. However, there was a fine line between experiencing manageable expectations – and a relentless striving for enhanced achievements and future opportunities, for which the latter could evoke worry and doubts about one’s abilities. Continuously striving for performance enhancement while trying to meet expectations in more than one arena was a source of highly demanding workloads and strains that influenced the student performers’ well-being and everyday lives.