Global midlife crisis

Midlife crisis is for real. It is, in fact, during middle-age that people are most likely to feel depressed, according to one of the largest surveys of human happiness and mental health ever conducted.

Middle-age depression is a global phenomenon, according to an analysis of 2million people in 80 countries by researchers from the University of Warwick in Britain and Dartmouth College in the United States.

People everywhere experienced a dip in their happiness and mental well-being during the middle years, with depression usually peaking in their 40s, the study found.

Midlife depression appeared to affect people of all cultures and socio-economic levels – millionaires and low-income manual workers, Western and third world countries, men and women. Whether or not a person was married with children, single, or divorced also made no difference.

Study co-author Professor Oswald of Warwick University said the findings contradicted previous studies suggesting that our mood remains relatively consistent as we age.

“The average, normal person experiences a kind of mid-life crisis in terms of happiness and mental health,” he told the Telegraph.

The reason for this is a mystery, he said, adding, “I would like to think that just discovering this phenomenon will help people through their middle ages. It will be nice for them to know they are not alone.”

Depression is not the only peril of the middle years – mid-life suicide is also on the rise. An analysis of U.S. death rates by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate among people aged 45 to 54 increased nearly 20 per cent from 1999 to 2004, more than all other age groups.

“Depression is believed to be present in most suicides. Any effort to reduce suicide deaths and attempts must include improved care and treatment for depression,” Bill Wilkerson, Co-founder, Chairman and CEO of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, said in a recent news release.

“I say that because in Canada today only 24 per cent of Canadians who receive treatment for depression actually get guideline level care,” he added.

U-shaped cycle of happiness
Researchers say that our lives generally take the form of a U-curve with the happiest times at the start and end of life. Generally speaking, age 44 is the lowest point when we are the most unhappy, after which we gradually begin to experience happiness again.

One theory for this is that the middle years act as a sort of reality check for the high aspirations of youth, when a person comes to terms with what he or she can reasonably expect to achieve.

Another theory, according to Oswald, is that people who are happier live longer. “Therefore if the unhappy people have died younger then those who remain are happier,” he said.

Older people may also start to feel happy again, he said, because they learn to count their blessings. “We see friends and family die and we see bad things happen and are just happy to be alive.”

The Warwick University-Dartmouth College study will be published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

Read about the symptoms of depression.

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