Is Midlife Crisis a Transition or a Depression?

This phrase is used to be synonymous with the unusual things people do, often out of the blue. It may be putting a halt to the thriving business, quitting your steady job, purchasing a sports car or even divorcing your spouse. But of late, this long-held and depressing view of the midlife crisis has changed.

The mental health experts opine that this change is not a crisis but a transition phase that has the potential to usher in a positive change in your life. What you need to do is not to let the pressure of transition take its toll on you.

What is a midlife crisis?

Dean Jones, Ph.D., director of the Counseling and Psychological Services Center at Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C, who has done extensive research in adult development and transitions opines that the concept of midlife crisis came to the fore only in the early 1980s.

“The midlife crisis was not part of the normal diagnosis and there is no specific age at which people get affected by it. But it can affect anytime between the age of 37 to 50,” he reveals. “This transition or crisis can be the result of some specific yet significant event in life. It may be the passing away of your parents, the start of a new decade or even the graduation of your children,” he further elaborates.

Role of Gender in Midlife Crisis

“Midlife crisis affects both men and women, although the cause and effect may seem to be different,” says Jones. Men generally are sensitive to their accomplishment and are eager to prove their worth in terms of their job excellence or even their ability to buy a sports car.

This may not always be true in every case but men constantly seek success, notwithstanding their mediocre achievements in life. Women give more importance to their relationship. Hence, as they approach midlife, they tend to reassess their role as a mother and wife.

Midlife Crisis – An inevitable yet normal phase of life.

The midlife change should be regarded as part of life. Yale psychologist Daniel Levinson in his well-known theory regarding adult development, states that adult life is set up with different stages. His whole theory revolves around life structure that signifies the very basis of living at a particular point of life.

Most people view their job and family as the basis of life structure. But the financial status, emotional moorings, and religion are also part of it. Daniel Levinson contends that this transition is just a step into another phase of life. “As the midlife approaches, people take stock of their situation. They reassess their achievements, aims, and priorities,” Jones says.

Women, after raising their children, concentrate on their work and career with a renewed vigor. “Women find the time and zeal to rediscover and pursue their dream that was left in the way due to other commitments,” Jones says.

Similarly, men may find the joy and happiness by indulging in activities like art, cooking or taking care of the children. “Sometimes, women may feel that they have done their duties and may not be particularly eager to do womanly jobs like babysitting the grandchildren.

Midlife transition

“The midlife change, with its promise is a step towards fulfillment and can have a positive effect on life. But some people may find it difficult to cope with,” says Joan R. Sherman, LMFT, a commissioned wedding and family expert in Lancaster, Pa. Various factors like the support of the spouse and family members come into play that can either make this transition smooth or troublesome.

In this context, Sherman gives the example of a woman who consulted her for counseling. The husband of the woman was constantly out of the home on his work, leaving her to bring up the children and other responsibilities of the family. She had earlier left her job as a nurse to look after the home full-time. Now, when the children have grown up and are ready to join college, she is confused about her role. “What now?” she thinks. It is as if she has lost her bearing in the new scenario. Her husband became worried when she slept and cried for a whole week.

So, Sherman advised the woman during her next therapy session, “It is not a case of losing your identity; rather a chance to build a new and challenging one.” “The idea appealed to her. With less responsibility in the family-front, she had the opportunity to carve a new career and identity. She contacted a college placement service to find out the available opportunities,” Sherman said.

Midlife Crisis and Depression.

“Unfortunately, the midlife transition phase is not smooth for everybody. Many people succumb to the sense of loss and confusion which can result in depression. So, you should be aware of the signs that may lead to it,” advises Jones

The following are some of the symptoms:

  • Change in your food habits
  • Sleeping disorders including change in sleeping patterns, tiredness and restlessness
  • A sense of despair and dejection
  • Anger, petulance, and uneasiness
  • Sense of self-pity and guilty
  • Sudden lack of interest in enjoyable things like one’s hobbies and other interests (including sex)
  • Development of suicidal tendency
  • Development of pains like headache, body-ache and gastrointestinal problems

What can you do if the midlife crisis leads to depression?

Anita H. Clayton, MD, professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville says that antidepressant medicines along with behavioral or talk therapy are the way out. According to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, a comparative evaluation was conducted among 656 persons who were suffering from chronic depression. The result showed that a combination of both behavioral therapy and medicine is the best treatment instead of only either of them. “But in cases of mild depression, either of them may bring in full remission,” says Clayton. So what do you think? Is midlife crisis a transition or a depression?

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