Depression

Aging really is depressing (until 50)

 

January 30, 2008 — According to new research published in the current issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine, whether you’re in Canada, Mexico or Malaysia, most of us bottom out in our mid-40s, describing ourselves as unhappy or even depressed.

But here’s the good news: We bounce back and describe ourselves as happier in our 50s and 60s.

Crunching data collected from health and social well-being surveys completed since 1972 by two million people in 80 countries, economist Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in Britain found that happiness follows a U pattern regardless of geography.

“You get this U shape with more or less whatever measure you have: happiness or psychological health or lack of depression,” Dr. Oswald says. “Mental distress reaches a maximum in middle age.”

And this is independent of gender, economic status and other factors. “It’s not caused by having children crying through the middle of the night, divorces occurring after 20 years of marriage or anything like that,” he says. “It’s way deeper than you might think.”

(One mathematical analogy: Aging from 20 to 45 has an effect equal to one-third the effect of being unemployed, Dr. Oswald says.)

January 30, 2008 –According to new research published in the current issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine, whether you’re in Canada, Mexico or Malaysia, most of us bottom out in our mid-40s, describing ourselves as unhappy or even depressed.

But here’s the good news: We bounce back and describe ourselves as happier in our 50s and 60s.

Crunching data collected from health and social well-being surveys completed since 1972 by two million people in 80 countries, economist Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in Britain found that happiness follows a U pattern regardless of geography.

“You get this U shape with more or less whatever measure you have: happiness or psychological health or lack of depression,” Dr. Oswald says. “Mental distress reaches a maximum in middle age.”

And this is independent of gender, economic status and other factors. “It’s not caused by having children crying through the middle of the night, divorces occurring after 20 years of marriage or anything like that,” he says. “It’s way deeper than you might think.”

(One mathematical analogy: Aging from 20 to 45 has an effect equal to one-third the effect of being unemployed, Dr. Oswald says.)

In some cases, Dr. Oswald and his colleagues were able to pinpoint specific ages that represent the nadir of middle-age mental health.

In Britain, 44 is the low point for men and women. In the United States, women reach it at 40, and men hold out until they’re 50. Dr. Oswald says the mid-40s is the stage at which Canadians are most unhappy.

Dr. Oswald said they pored over surveys such as the U.S. general social survey, looking for answers to questions such as: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days – would you say you’re very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?”

Another survey asked: “On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the life you lead?”

Most of us are more negative as we round the bottom of the U shape.

It’s a finding that flies in the face of current folk wisdom in psychiatry that says depression continues to rise as we age, Toronto psychiatrist Robert Cooke says.

Nevertheless, Dr. Cooke, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a staff psychiatrist in the mood and anxiety program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says it’s unclear whether people diagnosed with clinical depression would follow the same U arc as they age.

Regardless, he says one thing to glean is “to expect that it’s normal to have certain times in your life when you’re not as happy and it may not be your fault. It may just be the natural course of human life and it will pass.” And seek help if it does not.

In one of the European surveys he examined, Dr. Oswald said his research indicated a parallel in clinical anxiety and depression.

“We’re extremely confident that the same kind of pattern is found in medical depression, although we’re not clinically qualified,” he says. “We’re doing a different thing from psychiatrists. They know a lot and have seen a few hundred or thousand people; we don’t know very much but we’ve seen a million people.”

The findings cheer Dr. Oswald, who is 54. “Thank goodness there is a silver lining and it’s not just down all the way. I’m enjoying the upswing.”

He and his team suggest three explanations for both the dip and the rise in happiness that follows. His favourite explanation is that in our 40s, we come face to face with our unfulfilled dreams, and admit our personal weaknesses.

Dr. Oswald suggests that this may be a healthy way station we pass on the way to celebrating our strengths.

Another factor underlying our tendency to report greater happiness past our 40s relates to the death of others. We may celebrate our blessings as our peers die. And there is research to suggest cheerful people simply lead longer lives.

That said, does Dr. Oswald think it helps younger people to be armed with knowledge of the U looming in their futures?

“Knowing its existence may be reassuring to people who are finding life pressured in their mid-40s,” he says.

But, he adds, there’s little we can do to change it.

“If you can win the lottery or find a really fantastic marriage in your 40s, these things might help.”

© Copyright 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.  

Reviewed by Forum Admin -03-12-10

Leave a Reply