Duty, discipline and mental health problems: Young people’s pursuit of educational achievement and body ideals
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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The last decades have seen an increase in mental health problems among young people in Western countries; this has been tied to increasing educational achievement pressure and body dissatisfaction. The purpose of this paper is to explore how young people talk about reaching educational and body ideals, whether there are shared cultural imperatives underlying youths’ drive to reach educational goals and body ideals, and how such imperatives relate to young people’s mental health. Based on interviews with 15–18-year-old boys and girls (n=53), this paper identifies a cultural imperative permeating boys’ and girls’ talk about how they work towards their educational aims and their ideal body: with duty, grit and self-discipline. What also unites the fields of educational achievement and body ideals is that the qualities deemed necessary to achieve their goals in either field seem to also be potentially harmful to some young people’s mental health.