The Midlife Crisis: A Case of Extreme Stress
When It Rains, It Pours:
A woman recently asked me what to do about her husband who is very depressed. They have been married for almost twenty years and just adopted a baby. At the very same time, he was asked to take a serious cut in his salary because business in his company has been down. In addition to this, his elderly mother, who is more than eighty-years-old, has begun to have health problems. I guess this man's troubles add credence to the adage, "when it rains it pours."
In order to understand this man's depression, it is important to understand his stage in life. He and his wife are now in their forties. This is the time when many experience what is often referred to as the midlife crisis. It is also the time when many people become part of the “Sandwich Generation” - caught between responsibility for teenage children who are about to achieve autonomy through going either to college or work, and for aging parents who are beginning to have health problems and, sometimes, financial problems. In the life of this particular couple, parenthood is new and their child is an infant. Caring for an infant is difficult for young people and that much harder for people who are in the forty-year-old range. This is also a time when many people are thinking about and even planning their retirement ten or twenty years in the future. Yet, this particular man cannot think about retirement for two reasons: 1) he is at the beginning stages of raising a child and 2) he has taken a serious salary cut which affects his ability to provide economic security for his wife and baby.
However, there are even deeper issues adding to this man's growing sense of stress, anxiety, and depression. Many people in their forties are reviewing their work lives, their accomplishments, financial health, and extent to which they have reached their goals or aspirations. Due to the inevitable process of aging, both men and women become aware of physical changes. Some people gain weight, some women become depressed with what they view as their fading beauty. Many men become anxious about their masculinity and sexual prowess. In other words, both men and women become aware of the many physical changes that age brings about.
For a forty-year-old man concerned about the aging process and masculinity, suffering a major salary cut deeply impacts on self esteem and masculine self image. In other words, any man in this situation can begin to doubt himself and his worth. If he is already worrying that he is not the man he used to be, then losing salary adds evidence to that thought.
It is also important to keep in mind that the ability to begin a new career, difficult at any age, is especially difficult when there is a new baby at home. Even when the children are older, many men begin to believe that their options are limited. This leads to questions about why they originally chose their present career, which adds to a sense of low self esteem, frustration, and depression.
What Can Be Done?
Because stress is corrosive and, therefore, has a damaging impact on physical health, it is important for this man, and his wife, to take action to relieve the situation.
First, it is difficult to problem-solve when one is depressed, which is why, under difficult circumstances like these, it is worthwhile to seek therapeutic help. This help may or may not include taking medication, depending on the level of stress and depression.
Second, once the major symptoms of depression, worry, and anxiety are addressed, it might be important to consider either a career change, or working extra hours elsewhere, or providing childcare so that the wife can return to work and relieve some of the financial pressure.
The main point is not that there is any one solution to this type of problem but that only after a sense of optimism and energy are restored can a couple examine a variety of potential solutions. Under the weight of depression, everything can look hopeless. That is the reason why professional help can be so valuable to people who feel overwhelmed with stress.
Midlife Crisis? - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Aug 23rd 2009
You are asking an interesting question about your husband and I would like to expand upon the answer. So, please go to "Reader Questions" on the front page of our site where you will find my response.
sudden separation after loss of father - Rose - Aug 23rd 2009
My husband suddenly left and went to his mothers 9 months after his father died of cancer. He was very upset about his father and angry with me, but had kept both hidden until he left. Then my father died days later, but he never came home. My husband was left by both his father and mother as a young child and was brought up by his grandmother. As an adult he became close again with his father only to lose him again after a year of cancer. He is unable to talk, isolating himself from friends and famlly, but able to keep his routine of work, exercise and seeing our children. We see and talk to each other a lot because of the children (I think), though he resists conversations about emotions. He did come back 5 months later but left again after a few weeks. he is still unhappy, can't move forward or do the things he said he was missing out on. He rarely goes out and often drinks alcohol. Is this a mid-life crisis or extreme grief. Will things get better? What can i do?