Is It Depression or a Midlife Crisis: Similarities & Differences

Sometimes people think they’re experiencing a midlife crisis when they’re actually having a depressive episode. Similarly, people may believe they’re clinically depressed when they’re having a normal reaction to the stressors that often come with being middle-aged. It’s also possible for depression and midlife crises to overlap, and symptoms of one experience can exacerbate symptoms of another.

Understanding Common Midlife Crisis Symptoms

Every phase of life brings its own set of stressors, and nobody is truly immune to the rich emotional experience associated with aging. While not everyone experiences a midlife crisis during middle age, many people can relate to the intense feelings and discomfort that arise during this vulnerable time.

It’s important to note that a midlife crisis isn’t a mental health condition. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing adjustment stress during a tender phase. However, it can still result in significant emotional turmoil. Although we often associate these crises with grandiose behaviors like buying new cars or marital infidelity, many of the symptoms are far more subtle.

Some common symptoms indicating that you might be experiencing a midlife crisis include:

  • persistent restlessness
  • acting impulsively (or having the desire to act impulsively)
  • chronic reminiscence about the past
  • an impending sense of doom about aging and mortality
  • an intense desire for sudden change

Depression Vs. Midlife Crisis

Middle adulthood can be full of emotional challenges, which can coincide with stress and a sense of instability. At any given time, you may be raising children, caregiving for an aging parent, managing money stress, planning for retirement, experiencing health issues, undergoing physical changes, navigating menopause or other hormonal fluctuations, and dealing with relationship tension.

Clinical depression is a mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Depression can range from mild to severe, and it can affect every part of someone’s functioning, including their appetite, sleep habits, level of motivation, and sexual desire.

A depressed person does not inherently have a specific “look.” Furthermore, symptoms can arise at any time, and the severity of symptoms may evolve over the lifespan. In serious cases, depression causes significant impairments in daily life, and it may lead to self-sabotaging behavior or suicidal ideation.

Midlife crises, on the other hand, often entail an undercurrent of existential anxiety. If you’re having this experience, you might question who you are and what you’re doing in life. You’re also likely to become increasingly aware of time passing by. This can create a sense of unfulfillment, although it may motivate you to make important changes in your life.

A major depressive episode lasts at least two weeks, although people with chronic depression might experience various symptoms for several months or years. A midlife crisis, on the other hand, doesn’t adhere to any specific timeline. Most people experience midlife crisis symptoms for about 1-2 years. After that point, they can often settle into a place of acceptance for their new place in life.

Understanding Depression In Middle Age

Research shows that, on average, people first experience depression symptoms in their mid-twenties. If you’ve had a bout of depression in the past, you’re more likely to have another episode again.

However, many people don’t recognize that they’re actually experiencing depression when they’re struggling. If you present as “high-functioning,” you may be less aware of your emotional difficulties. You might dismiss depression for other issues like burnout or low self-esteem.

In middle age, depression can sometimes look like having a decreased interest in usual relationships or activities. Sometimes you might notice physical changes, like weight loss, weight gain, fatigue, and increased body aches and pains. You might also have either insomnia or hypersomnia.

When Depression Overlaps With a Midlife Crisis

It’s possible that a midlife crisis can trigger depression or vice versa. The discontent that can arise during middle age may cause you to seriously reflect on certain parts of your life, including your career path, relationships with friends or family members, romantic relationships, and overall health. Although there’s more of a focus on how men experience midlife crises, middle-aged women also experience this turmoil.

You may be having an overlap of both conditions if you:

  • ¬†identify with feeling both depressed and anxious about where you are in life
  • struggle with impulsivity and a lack of motivation simultaneously
  • persistently feel like there’s nothing left for you in life
  • experience tremendous regret over former decisions and keep obsessing over the past
  • withdraw from most or all forms of social support

Seeking Support for Midlife Concerns

Although the term midlife crisis is sometimes used to dismiss someone’s nuanced emotional experiences, it’s important to honor the tenderness of this changing time in your life. The midlife transition can be challenging, particularly if you experience depression or other mental health concerns.

The decision to seek professional support is unquestionably courageous. Together we can talk about what’s concerning you and collaborate on healthy coping strategies that you can use to better manage your most challenging symptoms.

No matter which feelings arise for you during middle age, you are not alone. There are valuable depression and midlife crisis treatment options that can provide you with relief and validation.

I welcome you to contact me today to learn more about managing your feelings and getting the support you deserve.



4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

kara@hartzellcounseling.com
(512) 988-3363

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