Midlife Crisis: Transition or Depression?
What do you do when a midlife crisis turns into depression?
What's a midlife crisis? It's the stuff of jokes and stereotypes -- the time
in life when you do outrageous, impractical things like quit a job impulsively,
buy a red sports car, or dump your spouse.
For years, midlife crisis conjured those images. But these days, the old
midlife crisis is more likely to be called a midlife transition -- and it's not
The term crisis often doesn't fit, mental health experts say, because while
it can be accompanied by serious depression, it can also mark a period of
tremendous growth. The trick, of course, is to realize when the transition is
developing into depression so you can get help.
Defining Midlife Crisis
Beginning in the 1980s, the term midlife crisis got a lot of attention, says
Dan Jones, PhD, director of the Counseling and Psychological Services Center at
Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C. He has researched adult development
"It was never a formal diagnostic category," he says of the term midlife
crisis. And the age at which midlife crisis strikes can vary, he says. When
midlife occurs depends on whom you ask and partly on such factors as how long
they expect to live.
A midlife crisis might occur anywhere from about age 37 through the 50s, he
By whatever term, the crisis or transition tends to occur around significant
life events, he says, such as your youngest child finishing college, or a
"zero" birthday announcing to the world that you're entering a new decade.
"The death of parents can be a marker, too, for these midlife events," Jones
Midlife Crisis: His vs. Hers
Men and women are equally likely to experience a transition or crisis, Jones
says. "But it looks different in both genders," he says.
"The stereotype is a man buys a red sports car," he says. That's not always
the case, of course, but Jones says men do seem more intent on wanting to prove
Men might gauge their worth by their job performance, he says. They may want
to look successful, for instance, even though their achievements don't measure
up as they had hoped.
"Women often get validity through relationships," he says, and that's true
even if they've had a lifelong career. So at midlife, they are likely to
evaluate their performance as a wife, mother, or both.
The Midlife Crisis as a Normal Stage in Life
The midlife transition is looked on, more and more, as a normal part of
life. Yale psychologist Daniel Levinson proposed in his well-regarded theory of
adult development that all adults go through a series of stages. At the center
of his theory is the life structure, which is described as the underlying
pattern of a person's life at any particular time.
For many people, the life structure involves mainly family and work, but it
can also include religion and economic status, for instance. According to his
theory, the midlife transition is simply another, normal transition to another
stage of life.