Can Midlife Make You Miserable?

You’re not alone. A 2008 study of 2 million people found that midlife depression spans the globe.


Let’s face it you don’t have to be in menopause or middle aged to be miserable, but there are some things that might just make it worse.

You’re certainly not alone as a 2008 study of data from 2 million people found that midlife depression spans the globe. It seems to  peak at around age 40 for women and 50 for men, and usually starts to lift in the 50s.

Why then? The researchers say the we may learn to adapt to our strengths and weaknesses and value life more.

Here’s 12 things to watch out for.

1. Overload

Most of us can recognise this as it’s a time of life when can get squeezed between the demands of children, ageing parents, marriage, and your job.

This can lead to feeling sad, worthless, and guilty and women tend to shoulder more of the “sandwich generation” burdens — and up to half become depressed as a result.

Solution: Make sure you’re caring for yourself, too. Not always easy, but try to prioritise exercise, enough rest, and a healthy diet. Friends matter and so does asking for help when you need it.

2. Low B12

If you’re feeling lethargic or depressed, too little vitamin B12 may be to blame. If you’re older, you’re more at risk because you may not have enough stomach acid to release B12 from food.

Solution: Ask your doctor to measure levels of B12 in your blood. If it’s low, talk to your doctor about diet, oral supplements, or an injection to see what might be right for you.

3. Changes in libido

This affects both men and women. For men, as they age, their bodies produce less  testosterone and this can cause depression, as well as erectile dysfunction (ED) and a decreased interest in sex.

In women this is linked to both physical and emotional issues as hormone levels change. Progesterone is the hormone behind sex drive in women, and the precursor for testosterone as well, so as levels drop so does libido. Also lower oestrogen levels can mean vaginal dryness and discomfort.

Solution: Check your hormone levels for both progesterone and oestrogen and supplement with bioidentical hormone creams if needed.

4. Thyroid issues

Depression can be one symptom of an underactive, or occasionally overactive, thyroid. In the case of overactive thyroid, it could be accompanied by heart flutters, tremors, or fatigue.

An underactive thyroid is common at menopause and can cause constipation or fatigue. That’s why this very treatable problem is often mistaken for bowel or nervous system disorders in older people.

Solution: Unfortunately the symptoms are often confused with other conditions and as progesterone supports thyroid function, do get your levels, checked and see your doctor, especially if a close relative has thyroid disease.

5. Trigger: Aching joints

Living with a condition that causes chronic pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, increases the chance of having depression. People with chronic pain are three times as likely to have depression or an anxiety disorder and depression can make pain worse.

Solutions: Exercise, meditate, or listen to music to help you relax and an hour of classical music a day has been shown to ease arthritis pain and depression.

Two favourite forms of help include heat and cold applications. So, if your joints are extra stiff in the morning, try a hot shower or bath. It’ll get blood flowing to the area, which loosens things up.

Sometimes cold is more helpful if you have an achy joint. It narrows blood vessels, which slows blood flow to the area and eases swelling so try a cold pack instead.

You could also try increasing progesterone levels as inflammation is related to joint pain, and progesterone has anti-inflammatory effects so may be helpful as well.

 6. Peri/ Menopause

Hormone fluctuations, hot flushes, and life changes related to perimenopause and menopause can make your mood plummet. If you have trouble sleeping, a history of depression, or PMS, mood swings or depression may worsen during this transitional period.

Solutions: For mild depression, try self-calming skills such as yoga or deep breathing. Do things that make you feel better, such as exercise or going out with friends, or find a creative outlet. Good alternative therapies that have proved helpful are acupuncture, herbal medicine and homoeopathy.

It is the rapidly changing hormone levels that often can trigger this so check those too.

7. Empty nest

When children leave home, an “empty nest” can make you feel without purpose. Going through menopause or retirement at the same time may make it harder.

Solutions: Try to see it as an opportunity and reconnect with your partner, other family members, and friends. Pursue hobbies and interests you didn’t have time for before and give yourself time to adjust.

8. Type 2 diabetes

Do you feel too listless to check your blood sugar regularly? Are unpredictable blood sugar levels making you feel out of control? Depression is a common and dangerous complication of many chronic conditions, including diabetes, and also may keep you from taking good care of yourself.

Solution: Talk therapy, medication, and better diabetes management can help you manage both conditions. Depression is serious and should not be ignored.

9. Sleep problems

Insomnia and other sleep disruptions, which are common as we age, are closely related to depression. Insomnia can be a sign that you are depressed, and if you have insomnia but aren’t depressed, you’re at higher risk of developing mood changes. Obstructive sleep apnoea and restless legs syndrome also have been linked to depression.

Solutions: unfortunately, during menopause sleep patterns are often disrupted for a variety of reasons: anxiety, bladder, issues, hot flushes, and night sweats.

Get hormonal issues under control and learn good sleep hygiene habits, such as regular bedtime hours. Exercise early regularly and avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine, which interfere with sleep.

10. Heart problems

Women become more vulnerable to heart disease mid life, and it’s very natural to feel depressed after a diagnosis of heart disease or having a heart attack or surgery. Many people with heart disease go on to experience severe, long-term depression and that can worsen heart health.

Solutions: A healthy diet and sleep, mild exercise, relaxation techniques, and joining a support group can help you get through the blues. Try a specific heart healthy diet such as the Mediterranean or DASH diets (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and both are healthy-eating plans designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure.

11. Loneliness

Social support can help prevent or ease depression, so reach out and find an interest that connects you to others. A new hobby, joining a choir or music group or finding an evening class to learn something new can all be ways to meet others.

Solution: Be proactive, offer volunteer help and find an area of interest to pursue. It’s also important to maintain ties with close friends and family members and explore Internet technology that can give you virtual face-time with distant friends.

12.  Grief

It’s normal to grieve after losing a loved one. But grief can grow into depression and associated memory problems, confusion, and social withdrawal can be symptoms of depression in older people. Both grief and depression raise the risk for heart-related deaths.

Solutions: Let yourself grieve and don’t try to hasten or ignore the natural process. Express your feelings to friends, in a support group, or to a grief counsellor.

Helpful information

Research suggests that volunteering can help you forget your own problems and volunteering feels good at any age. Helping others changes your focus on your own depression as it can give your life a new sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Remember that many of these depression triggers can also be linked to your hormonal status, so stay on top of your symptoms and look for ways to rebalance your hormones.

If you are not sure which hormone you may need this article will be helpful.