Research suggests that general happiness and satisfaction follow a ‘U’ curve. It means the two begin to drop by early adulthood and touches the lowest point at around 40. Interestingly, it is around this time that many people experience, what is called, a midlife crisis. As the term loosely suggests, it refers to the existential concerns a person faces during midlife. During this period, which approximately spans from ages 37 to 50, a person might feel unease looking forward, hence starts looking backward. During this period, the person might feel unhappy, dissatisfied, aimless, frustrated, and unmotivated. The underlying feelings might appear similar to depression. However, these are distinct. So, what is the difference between midlife crisis and depression? To understand that, Onlymyhealth spoke to Dr. Jyoti Kapoor, Senior Psychiatrist, and Founder, Manasthali.
What Is Midlife Crisis?
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“The idea that you’ve spent half your life might hit some people hard,” Dr Kapoor said. The person might start comparing himself to the stereotypical image of people in their forties. Often, this period of life is associated with major changes, such as kids leaving for college, old-age-related chronic ailments, the increased incidence of illness or death among parents, among others. While going through a midlife crisis:
- The person might start fearing the impending old age.
- He/she might experience a lack of energy or stamina.
- The person might not feel pretty or youthful and starts finding ways to feel or look younger.
Hence, midlife crisis is associated with the feelings of:
- Lack of motivation
- Frequent reflection into the past
Difference Between Midlife Crisis & Depression
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The differences between midlife crisis and depression can be clubbed into two categories:
Clinical Vs Non-Clinical
Depression is a clinical condition in which a person experiences persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness. It may or may not be associated with a stressful situation. On the other hand, a midlife crisis isn’t a clinical condition. It’s the unease a person experiences during midlife. Those going through a midlife crisis may experience
- Emotional issues
- Mood disturbances
Psychologically, during this phase, the person might want to hold on to youthfulness and experiences fear and anxiety over the impending old age.
Transition Vs Non-Transition
A midlife crisis occurs during the transition period in life after one has achieved almost every milestone in his/her life. The term ‘crisis’ represents something drastic, says Dr Kapoor. However, not everyone experiences it. On the other hand, depression is a clinical condition that can develop at any stage of a person’s life.
Can Midlife Crisis Turn Into Depression?
Yes, a midlife crisis can culminate into depression in vulnerable individuals. Gladly, there are ways to prevent that from happening:
- Don’t Brush Aside Your Feelings: The realisation of getting old can be overwhelming. However, ignoring your feeling will not help you. They might compound, instead. Hence, acknowledge what you are experiencing and share that with others. Journaling might also help you get some clarity.
- Transitions Are Necessary: Next, you need to realise that all the transitions in life are necessary. You were a child who turned into a teenager, then to a young adult, and then to an old adult. And now, you are in your midlife. Every phase of life is associated with its own experiences and challenges. Hence, acknowledge that, and try to get yourself ready for this new phase of life, its associated challenges. You should do it with a renewed sense of excitement and purpose.
- Take Care Of Your Mental Health: As you know many of the feelings you experience when going through a midlife crisis are similar to those for depression. Also, since the former has the potential to turn into a mental health issue, hence, you must take care of your mental health. And if you experience your symptoms worsening, such as the symptoms persisting for several days, or interfering with your domestic and work life, then you must see a mental health expert.
Just like a person goes through major changes as he/she steps into adolescence, the same might be true for midlife. The changes might overwhelm you and might have an impact on your mental health. However, do remember, it’s not a clinical condition and is a general part of growing up. Hence, acknowledge your feelings, understand why you’re feeling that way and take utmost care of your overall health. Now, coming back to the ‘U’ curve, which we mentioned at the start. Although life satisfaction and happiness dip around 40, it rises again after that. Hence, embrace this part of life with utmost excitement and purpose.
(With inputs from Dr. Jyoti Kapoor, Senior Psychiatrist, and Founder, Manasthali)
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