Mid-life Mental Health

Aren’t we supposed to get better at life as we gain experience? Isn’t it supposed to get easier? So, why do so many of my middle-aged friends seem to be getting more distressed and less happy with each passing month?

The mid-life crisis is a Hollywood cliche, but in fact statistics show that the prevalence of mental disorders decreases each decade as we grow older from 16 to over 75. So, what is going on with the people in my life?

Other data, relating only to women, shows that while there is a percentage with chronic issues and the mental well-being of around 10% will move from low to high as they enter middle age, there are also around 10% of women whose mental health will deteriorate at this time.

I guess this demographic is overrepresented amongst my peer group for some reason. (Maybe it’s me?)

Personally, I was depressed and suicidal through most of my teens and twenties, but since then my state of mind has steadily improved until, at almost fifty years old, I have never felt happier. I don’t have a proper job and I still drink too much, but every day I’m grateful for this magic world, my balanced emotions and the ability to smile.

The only significant source of sadness in my life today is that several people I love are unable to fully appreciate the amazingly fortunate existence which we share.

While some, like my hard-working partner, are trying everything and gradually learning how to regain their joy in living, others are finding it impossible to take that first step to reach out for a lifeline.

I know how difficult it is. It took a long time for me to admit my vulnerability and to ask somebody else to help carrry the unbearable weight of my despair. I would pass a psychologist’s office on my way to the bus stop and wish I was brave enough to walk through that door.

The day I finally managed to do it, with the help of my parents, was the beginning of a new life. Everyone deserves the possibility of being happy. There are as many different ways to deal with mental health problems as there are different types of professionals devoted to finding solutions.

Of course, there will always be stresses, worries, even disasters, but when we discover we can’t even remember the last time we experienced delight or peace, there is something wrong which needs to be fixed.

All going well, my generation could live for another thirty years or more. Imagine how many moments of love, contentment, laughter and wonder those years could contain.

Middle age can be a difficult transition for various reasons. There are an increasing array of physical problems, ageing parents, menopause, career or relationship stagnation and the ever-approaching prospect of mortality. Most of my friends and I have all had children late or not at all, so perhaps this is also a piece of the puzzle.

Yet our fulfilment does not have to depend on what is happening around us. We do not have to choose unnecessary suffering. It may be understandable if the pressures of middle age, or any age, trigger a mental disorder, but we do not have to let it define us.

We are the only ones responsible for our inner well-being, and when things are not working out, there are people trained to help us optimise our brain functionality.

If the radiator blows in our car, we do not keep trying to drive it. If we can’t fix it ourselves then we’ll take it to someone who can. And if that person tries and fails, we’ll take it to another mechanic until we find someone who can make the car run again.

We can do our own research, exercise and eat well, but talking to a qualified professional is the most accurate way to find the right solutions for our individual needs.

One positive aspect about being older is that we’re more likely to have the resources to pay for assistance than younger folk. Regardless, many countries ensure mental health care is affordable for all, like Australia where everybody is entitled to ten free or cheap counselling sessions per year.

The thought of talking to a stranger about our problems, when we might not feel like ever seeing another human face, can be overwhelming. It can be inconceivable even to make a phone call. We can be convinced that this is just the way our lives have turned out and it’s fine and nobody else’s business.

It can be daunting, but if you only consider it at first and eventually visualise yourself asking for assistance, imagine getting the help you need, then maybe one day when the weight feels slightly less heavy on your heart, you might find yourself able to dial that number and start walking down that road to wellness, one small step at a time.

If one day you remember the lightness and beauty that is mixed in with the darkness of this life, you will understand that it is worth doing anything to find it again.

Written by

Australian writer, environmental activist, hang-gliding assistant & former sailor, journalist & clown. Debut poetry collection available now. www.emmabriggs.net

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