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Midlife Crisis: Transition or Depression?

What do you do when a midlife crisis turns into depression?

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.

In midlife, people often reevaluate their priorities and goals, Jones finds.

Women, feeling they have raised their children, may want to go back to school, even if they have been in the work force, reasoning they can now do whatever they wish, work-wise.

"They're able to follow up on some dreams," he says, that might have been abandoned due to family responsibilities.

"Men may get more in touch with their feminine side," Jones says. That could mean taking up cooking or art or volunteering with children.

Meanwhile, midlife women may become more selfish, Jones says, even though they value relationships. They may feel they have "paid their dues" and not be willing, say, to babysit the grandkids every time they are asked.

Midlife Crisis: Path to Depression or Growth?

The midlife transition can be enlightening for some but also tough, agrees Joan R. Sherman, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Lancaster, Pa.

Whether a midlife transition will develop into serious depression or into an opportunity for growth depends on a number of factors, including support from partners and other loved ones.

Sherman recalls a woman who came to her for counseling. She was in her late 40s, married to a man about the same age who had traveled extensively for his job throughout their marriage. That left her with full-time household responsibility, raising the kids.

She had been a nurse, but gave that up to be a full-time parent. When the kids went off to college, she thought, "What now?" Sherman says. The woman told her she felt she had lost her whole identity.

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