NHS Guide to the male ‘mid-life crisis’

The male midlife crisis is often made fun of, but for many men it is a distressing experience.

A male midlife crisis can happen when men think they’ve reached life’s halfway stage. Anxieties over what they’ve accomplished so far, either in their job or personal life, can cause a period of depression. In men, this usually happens between the ages of 35 and 50 and can last for up to 10 years.

It’s a controversial syndrome that health experts think is related to the brain or to hormonal changes. While it may be a great source of jokes and amusement for some, for those affected it can be quite debilitating.

Dr Derek Milne, a clinical psychologist, and author of the book Coping with a Mid-life Crisis, says it’s a poorly researched topic.

“What data we do have of a scientific kind are limited in terms of the quality and the surveys that exist,” he says.

“Literature on the midlife crisis mostly comes out in book form, by journalists rather than trained researchers. These are sketchy, descriptive accounts that wouldn’t normally be published in a scientific journal.

‘A time of growth’

When it comes to the midlife crisis, Dr Milne says everyone’s circumstances are different.

“I would guess it affects a significantly small amount of the population. Somewhere around 20% of people (mostly men) will have gone through this by the time they’re 50.

“My book is all about coping,” he says, “and if I was giving advice on how to cope I’d suggest telling your GP you’re feeling depressed, because depression makes up a significant portion of the midlife crisis”.

“I would, however, recommend that you see a psychologist or counsellor and have it treated as a psychological condition and not through medication.”

Dr Milne says the important thing is to ‘thrive’. “Even if there are times when all you feel you can do is survive to the next day, the goal is thriving, and I believe that we do this best when we view our current crisis as a time of growth and personal change.”

The best advice is to see your GP and get help. Depression can be triggered by a major life change, such as divorce, separation, long-term illness, bereavement or job loss. Sometimes there appears to be no obvious reason.

The point is, if you feel very low for more than a couple of weeks, it is vital that you go to your GP for help. You may be prescribed antidepressants or referred to a counsellor.

Ways to help avoid depression include regular exercise, which can ease tension and trigger brain chemicals that improve mood (endorphins), eating well and sleeping well. Most of all, don’t bottle your feelings up.