When a person is acting strangely those who care about them are understandably going to ask, why? A fairly common explanation for odd behavior in men can be a midlife crisis. But what if in addition to their strange behavior a man also seems depressed? Is midlife crisis depression a real thing?
Yes, midlife crisis depression is real, but it isn’t significantly different from regular depression in men other than it’s occurring simultaneously with, and possibly resulting from, a midlife crisis. However, those watching a man's behavior are usually confused as to which one is actually occurring. It's hard to discern which is which. And men usually won't be any help, as they'll typically deny either one, especially since having one or the other can be perceived as a weakness.
What comes along with midlife crisis is confusion. The person having one is confused, loved ones close to him are confused, even friends and associates can be confused and perplexed as well. So if you're confused, you're not alone.
Is it Midlife Crisis or Depression?
Partners regularly ask me whether their man is having a midlife crisis or is depressed. My answer is always, yes and yes. Midlife crisis and depression always go together. In fact, a midlife crisis is partly the outward expression of being depressed. Midlife crisis and depression, particularly clinical depression, can also be two completely different problems. To make this even more complicated they can also become so intertwined that they're basically the same thing. Confused yet? Welcome to the motto for midlife crisis, "I'm confused."
While they can be very similar, sometimes the same thing, and very interconnected, midlife crisis and depression are also different. They can look very similar, but also look very different. Understanding the common signs for each, especially in men, is crucial to deciphering what's actually happening.
A woman I'm counseling right now is struggling to understand her husband's midlife crisis. He left a few months ago and before that seemed very happy she says. Now he tells her he's not happy and hasn't been for a long time. How could he just a couple of months ago send her texts that said he missed her and was looking forward to getting home from work if he wasn't happy? She asks me if he's really unhappy then he must be depressed, right? Yes, but he's also showing signs of a midlife crisis with he desire to start his life over (and she just found out he's cheating).
Another female patient says her husband actually told her he's having a midlife crisis (it's unusual for a man to recognize and admit it) and says he's no longer in love with her. She says she knows he's having a midlife crisis, but he also looks depressed and hasn't done any of the typical midlife crisis actions the husband above has like move out. So she's asking is he really is depressed and not having a midlife crisis.
I know he’s depressed, we both are, this could be midlife crisis, but I don’t know about the other things mentioned on your site. I’ve asked is there is someone else physically or emotionally and he denies it. I have tried everything I know to get through to him, bring back the love and save our marriage." -Kiara
Most often midlife crisis depression looks more like a midlife crisis from the outside. There are extreme behavior choices, sudden lifestyle changes, and an overall dissatisfaction with life that's pretty obvious (learn more symptoms for men in midlife crisis). Depressed men usually aren't acting so out of character. They're unhappy too, but it's often not easy to tell.
Unlocking the question of which it is (midlife crisis or depression) and if it's both requires some assistance from the one struggling. Yet they usually don't want to talk about it, especially if it's a man. Additionally, they typically don't have a lot of self-awareness or insight into what the problem is other than awareness of the discomfort or pain they're feeling.
Types of Depression
When most of us think of depression we think of a person who can't get out of bed, doesn't get dressed and mopes around. This is more of a description of what depression looks like in women than it does in men. Male depression can manifest more in mood, such as irritability and anger, than in extreme behavior changes.
I’ve found in my many years of counseling men that many of them are depressed and don’t know it. Usually they have a low level depression in which they’re still functional and able to do their jobs, etc., but they’re just not happy. Sometimes partners know about this and sometimes not. The unhappiness can manifest as irritability, a quick temper or outright anger. It also can show up as moodiness, lack of interest or motivation, and withdrawal from social interactions.
A number of men are depressed but don't meet the criteria for a clinical depression diagnosis. Usually their outward behavior doesn't seem significantly changed, and other than perhaps appearing a bit down or withdrawn they seem like their normal selves. Since a lot of men are lacking in emotional awareness and expression they're mood change can be hard to recognize.
I have had read through the valuable information on your website about MLC but I still have some questions unanswered. My husband and I have been married for almost nine years, been together for almost 19 - we met when we were both 19. We have never had any real 'issues' up until 12 months ago when our dog Bella passed away. Following this his Dad passed away, he found out he has a half-sister out in the world from his father, his father betrayed him and his siblings by leaving everything in his will including family heirlooms and a fifth generation family farm to my husband's step-mum (they are now contesting the will), and then our other dog Penny passed away. He was so devastated by the passing of Penny more that anything else that has happened recently. Recently I discovered he'd been having an emotional affair with a sister of our friend via Facebook. He communicates to my friends that there is nothing 'wrong' with him yet he confided in me that he thinks he has depression and is suffering a midlife crisis. He has now gone on a work trip and he is planning on taking this girl with him. My initial reaction to all of this was to panic! But then I asked him to move out as I couldn't have him communicate with 'her' while I am sitting opposite him on the couch. He moved out, said he was having a breakdown then went and saw a counsellor. Following this counsellor visit he says he is now fine and as far as I know he isn't returning to the counsellor. He comes from a crappy family upbringing whereby his father treated his mother like a doormat and now I can see history repeating itself. Anyway I am pretty confident he is going through some form of life transformation. I feel like I am running out of options... swimming against the tide so to speak." -Kate
Causes of Depression
Life for everyone has ups and downs, good periods and bad ones. This is normal and so is the fact that sometimes these swings are small and other times big. We all can get down and depressed about things like not getting the bonus we expected, dating and not meeting someone we want to build a relationship with, even the weather can get people down.
Depression is different, however, and is often triggered by a loss or traumatic event, but it can also come from a persistent stressor. Guys I counsel who are out of work and looking for a job are always depressed (and should be). Dissatisfaction with your relationship or marriage, sex life, financial situation are common sources of depression.
Look at the number of losses in Kate's husband's life in the quote above - his dog died, father died, he learned had a half sister, he got cut out of his father's will, another dog died. Anyone of these things is going to make anyone depressed. Pile them on top of one another and it's not only enough to trigger depression but also a midlife crisis as these events can cause someone to begin to question their whole life.
Is this guy depressed (he should be) or having a midlife crisis? Likely it's both and this is a good example of midlife crisis depression. His case shows how intertwined they can be. Which caused which? I won't be able to tell for sure without talking to him. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter which came first. Clearly he's got both going on and shockingly is aware and will admit it.
How Midlife Crisis Depression is Different
Since a lot of depression in men doesn't qualify for a clinical diagnosis it's typically not a severe form of depression. As a result, the depression doesn't have a huge debilitating effect or dangerous symptoms, such as thoughts of suicide. What makes midlife crisis depression different is that in addition to signs of male depression it also includes the chaotic, extreme behavior choices that accompany the standard midlife crisis. Depression during midlife crisis usually looks much more like midlife crisis than depression based upon what's outwardly observable.
With midlife crisis depression there can be highs in addition to the lows that aren't typically a part of clinical depression. These moods and the behaviors that go along with them can be extreme too. While the hopelessness that comes with most depression can be present it usually manifests more as confusion.
I've read your blog on midlife transitions and crisis and believe this is what is occurring with my husband for the past 3+yrs. We've experience much pain - an affair with a coworker 13yrs younger, the waffling back and forth to her and our marriage and family, the ILYBNILWY (I love you but not in love with you), blaming the moving and returning, confusion, frustration, secretive, desire to be happy, and now depression with confusion. I'm not one to say our marriage life was perfect prior we both had much maturing to do and I have done a lot of self reflecting of my own. I think I've done much wrong in my reactions and trying to get a better grasp of where to go from here...setting clear boundaries and detachment. He continues to say he just wants to be happy." -Natalie
It would be fair to say that midlife crisis depression gets acted out and responded to in ways depression doesn't. Most men will ignore being depressed and do nothing to change how they feel. While men in a midlife crisis are all about doing something, anything, to change their unhappiness.
Sorting out midlife crisis depression is very difficult. Most likely you'll be able to discern just enough to guess that both a midlife crisis and depression are likely occurring. Helping someone in this state is extremely difficult. It's much like trying to save someone who's drowning. Many rescuers end up drowning themselves while trying to save a drowning person. It takes a trained and skilled person to safely save someone who's drowning. So be careful and recognize your limitations because the same goes for midlife crisis depression.
Do you have some experience with midlife crisis depression, or one or the other? Please share something about it with others in a comment below.
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