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University Students Struggle With the Perils of Perfectionism

But at least one university is fighting back with an awareness campaign to ease the pressure.

To the oustside world, Alexandra Smithers seems to have it all. All third year biochemistry student at Mount Allison University, she maintains top marks and aspires to become pediatric neurologist. She also volunteers with a disabled child, coordinates volunteer services for the student union and captains the ultimate Frisbee team. But under that winning facade, Ms. Smithers suffers from perfectionism, the personality trait where one aspires to be flawless in everything. "I'm my hardest critic- I can put myself really down," she says. Her negative self-talk has led to anxiety requiring medication.

And, she believes that university has worsened her condition. "We've been taught 'do more, do better.' We forget about our mental health," she says. Gordon Flett, a psychology professor and holder of Canada Research Chair in Personality and Health at New York University, worries that universities are breeding ground of perfectionism- he estimates two out of five students suffer from the condition.