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Midlife Crisis: Transition or Depression?

What do you do when a midlife crisis turns into depression?
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The Midlife Crisis as a Normal Stage in Life continued...

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.

The husband, who also talked to Sherman, became concerned after his wife spent nearly a week sleeping and crying.

The next time Sherman saw the woman in therapy, she offered her an alternative thought: "You're not losing your identity. You have an opportunity to create a new one."

Yes, her parenting role would change, but having much less responsibility -- as her kids were now in college -- would free her up to develop a new image and identity. The thought appealed to her. The next week, she went to a college placement service to explore her options.

When Midlife Crisis Turns Into Depression

Not everyone glides through their midlife transition that easily, of course, Jones says.

In midlife, people need to be aware of symptoms of serious depression, such as:

  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in sleeping habits, fatigue
  • Feelings of pessimism or hopelessness
  • Restlessness, anxiety or irritability
  • Feeling of guilt, helplessness or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex and hobbies
  • Thoughts of suicide or attempts at suicide
  • Physical aches or pains such as headaches or gastrointestinal upset that don't respond to treatment
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