Ask a family doctor what the top emotional issue is in middle-aged men and most will say depression. So, what is it about the 40s that affects so many men so badly? Depressed 40s men come out with broadly similar answers. In no particular order the issues might include the realization that life is half over. They may feel trapped by financial commitments, which in turn leaves them unable to seriously consider alternative careers, even assuming someone would employ them. They have made a transition from young man to something else. They begin to be viewed differently and view themselves and life in different ways.
A former work colleague of mine went into a depression following the death of a close relative. This was the second close death in a short space of time and his conversation reflected his mood. His parents were dead and he was next in line. All the efforts he’d made, all the study and self-sacrifice to aspire seemed to be increasingly pointless. He was becoming more cynical and self-absorbed by the day. He compared himself to the other overweight, balding, unhappy men in the same age group and saw himself categorized as an anonymous failure. He was full of regrets about courses of action taken and not taken. His marriage, he said, had also gone stale. His story isn’t necessarily typical of all men but there are some aspects of it that men in their 40s may recognize.
It’s certainly the case that depression does reach a peak during the midlife of many men. However by the late 40s and early 50s a surprising thing often seems to happen. The incidence of depression falls. Many men find a new confidence. They have often accepted that life isn’t all they’d hoped and have largely put these issues behind them. New goals and opportunities start to appear as they think in new ways and open themselves to ideas they previously hadn’t considered. Men in their 50s and 60s will often point out that their lives are richer, more interesting and more fulfilling than when they were younger. In part this is due to a new attitude. Youth is often something of a blur whereas in the late 40s, 50s and 60s comes greater wisdom and appreciation of things previously ignored or overlooked.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.