The Problem with Perfection

I’m not a perfectionist. I like to have control over my immediate environment but I’m all about good enough. Mostly because perfection is hard work but also because perfection is unattainable. Good enough is good enough.I’ve been thinking about this recently in regards to mental health. There has been a lot in the news about the strain on the NHS, the increase in children and young adults dealing with mental health issues. CAMHS is very underfunded as is mental health care generally in the NHS and young people aren’t getting the help they need. At the same time I’ve noticed a whole raft of people posting stuff about having mental health issues most generally anxiety and depression. Also lots of what not to say to a depressed person posts (I get it, don’t tell them to pull themselves together or go for a run!)

I think that if I was 25 years younger, I’d be one of those people. I was a very unhappy teenager and young adult for absolutely no reason I could see. Ok home life wasn’t great but also it wasn’t terrible either. Fortunately, I was also rubbish at being a teenager, I did drama but I didn’t really do staying out late, getting drunk or being unsafe. I was a sensible unhappy teenager who spent most of her weekends babysitting, I was the sensible girl.I didn’t think that boys would make me feel better, I was well educated about sex and I was lucky that I had a bunch of wise older women to advise me when I wouldn’t listen to my mother. As an adult, I understand that deep down I understood that life was sometimes terrible (and at 17, I truly believed it was grim) but that you just got on with it.

I am naturally a bit depressive which comes from my father AND my grandad, so both sides of my family. However, from the viewpoint of being the most balanced and content that I have ever been, I can see there were times when I was depressed. I went to see the GP because I couldn’t sleep and had a prescription for sleeping pills but I never thought that I needed anti-depressants and I was never offered them (and I’m not in any way suggesting that people shouldn’t take them, if they help). I did eventually get some counselling (there is a famous episode when a friend suggested therapy and I replied that I would, if I could find a sensible therapist!) which gave me some coping skills and helped me recognise where I was getting in my own way. One of those ways was having ridiculous expections of myself and of other people.What I’m trying to express, probably very poorly, is that although I don’t wish to tell anyone that they don’t have mental health issues, I think that as a society we have a problem with perfect that is causing a mental health problem for young people.

That there are a bunch of people, who honestly are not making it up, but just don’t have any coping skills or resilience to not feeling great or bad things. Because we as a society haven’t taught them how to cope. My impression is that we hover over our children, giving them things they don’t need but not the time and attention they do.

I see children not being taught how to behave appropriately in public spaces and their behaviour not being dealt with. I’m not talking about tantrums here, that happens, it’s the running around cafes and restaurants, being rude to adults, not being able to be quiet in a library, the children who thought it was ok to try and take produce at the allotment open day and the parents that encouraged it.

As a society, it seems that we are overly permissive about behaviour of children but once they get a bit older, we give them phones and social media access and don’t teach them how to use it or monitor their use. We are giving children mixed messages. They are the most precious thing in the world and can be anything they want to be but we’re not paying attention to them or teaching them how they can be anything they want to be (which basically starts with ‘apply yourself’).

We expect them to be perfect, to know how to navigate the world they find themselves in and they expect their lives to be perfect. Only we haven’t taught them how much hard work perfect is and we haven’t taught them that good enough is good enough.  So we have lots of young people who don’t know how to move through feeling low because they never learnt to regulate their behaviour or emotions. They don’t know how to deal with the pressure from social media and how to cope with their lives not being instagram perfect.

As a society we struggle to be content, we struggle to deal with grey areas and imperfection. So is it actually any wonder that young people dealing with the crap hand they’ve been handed with work and housing and social pressure are struggling? And if you think about it isn’t depression and anxiety a logical outcome of all those factors? I don’t know if I’m right about this and I sure as hell don’t have any real answers, although I’d start with housing and schools and more expectation from parents about appropriate behaviour. I do think it’s something we have to pay more attention to though.

 

 

 

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About nicdempsey

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