Not-so Flirty at 40

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

So far, life seems to be largely on the upswing for this run-of-the-mill radio producer. I had some dark days in '04 when I was unemployed, but since then, the sunny days have far outnumbered the stormy ones (which is not to say I don't love a good storm). People keep insinuating that I should be concerned about 30, which is right around the corner, but I always respond, "Why worry? 27 was good, 28 was even better, and I absolutely love 29 — aging is great!" Turns out, maybe Pollyanna over here should be listening to her questioners. A new study shows depression in middle age peaks at age 44 (or, should I say, it valleys?). Sure, at 44 I may have many more responsibilities than I do now — possibly a big mortgage, possibly a marriage, possibly kids — and those are just the good things that could place demands on my time... What if divorce, death, and debt are around that bend? Either way, a slump at 44 is likely for folks worldwide, and there may even be a biological reason for it. The good news is, it's a U-shaped plot, so you'll pull out of it as you age... But on the flip side, that means folks my age are looking at the downward slope. Have you experienced depression or unhappiness in your 40s? And did you come out of it with age? What made the difference?

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I've heard the reports about depression hitting in the 40s and it seems to be universal. I appear to be the exception. I'm 45 and I'm happier than I was in my 20s. I'm not as concerned about what people think about me as I was in my 20's. I know myself better than I did when I was in my 20s. I know what makes me happy and what doesn't, so I don't waste my time and energy with people and things that don't fit for me. I have remained single and I don't have children so I have plenty of "me" time, perhaps that has something to do with it.

Sent by DannaKay | 3:13 PM | 2-20-2008

I'm loving my early 30s, and I want to know what were the most troubling life areas for people in the study, so that I can take what preventative mental health measures I can!

Sent by Tom | 3:13 PM | 2-20-2008

At 42, I was very tired of my life. I had 5 children, a new job and some medical problems. I got through it by taking up the guitar again after putting it under the bed for 15 years. I am now nearly 58 and have recorded 4 CD's of original songs and I am quite happy looking forward to retirement at 60.

Sent by Mike Campbell of Anchlorage, AK | 3:13 PM | 2-20-2008

I am female and I just turned 47, My mid 40's have actually been the best time of my life and getting better everyday. I had my children in my early 20's so they are on their way doing great and are my best friends. (all girls) I am volunteering I moved to a new city and found myself it has been just wonderful...there is hope!

Sent by Shannon Thompson | 3:13 PM | 2-20-2008

Carl Jung talked about the mid-life transition, typically occurring in the 40's, as we (he argues) make a psychic change from outer world concerns and establishing ourselves in the world to establishing our relationship to our internal self. He argues this is a "religious" change, not to be confused with religion. The depression comes from a the perception there is nothing more in our outer world or we are going to grow worthless in the world. We undervalue the need the turn inward, a natural process, Jung suggests.

Sent by Larry Jines | 3:15 PM | 2-20-2008

I like thinking about how well certain song lyrics sum up things we experience. Lyricists are often very insightful. One such song ("Sounds Better in the Song") is by a band called Drive by Truckers, who have a full concert available for download on NPR's site and who I just saw in concert last night.

Anyway, they have a lyric which I think sums this up pretty well.

"Dreams are given to you when you're young enough to dream them/before they can do you any harm/They don't start to hurt, until you try to hold on to them after seeing how they really are"

Sent by Jason | 3:17 PM | 2-20-2008

I just am about to turn 33 and have recently come out of a clinical depression I experienced in my 20s. Does this mean I should be more aware of possibly falling back into depression in my 40s?

Sent by Margaret | 3:17 PM | 2-20-2008

Way back when Gail Sheehy wrote Passages, she said that those who experience great crisis and depression in their youth are less likely to have problems in later years.

That certainly has been true for me. My early to mid twenties were marked by great depression and general feelings that life was just meaningless. My forties are proving to be happy, fulfilling and much less turbulent.

I always try to tell adolescents that life gets better as you go on. You have more freedom (which, yes, brings a lot of responsibility), more experience, more confidence, you can let go of so many hangups and, perhaps, unreachable aspirations.

I look forward to being like my grandmother, who also suffered depression young, but said her 80s were wonderful.

Sent by Tom | 3:18 PM | 2-20-2008

I'm listening to this pgm now (KQED in SF) and the most depressing thing I've heard is that "middle age" = 40s! I'm 57, and fully realize I won't live to 114, but still....45 is old/middle?!

Sent by Danny Smith | 3:18 PM | 2-20-2008

Your first caller may have made a telling comment when he mentioned his divorce. If one is in one's forties and still in a difficult relationship, an unrewarding job, dealing with difficult teenagers, etc., it is time to make major decisions about one's life, possibly involving major changes. There is a period of indecisiveness and not being in control which can either start or aggravate depression, I would think.

Sent by ellen j cantwell | 3:26 PM | 2-20-2008

It is a choice. Is I choose to be happy, nothing outside of me can take that happiness away. One can be both happy and depressed. I went through a period of depression, eventually We found it was caused by Mononuclosis. I could not function, but I stayed happy, because I knew that this thing that "had me" was not realy me. I chose to be happy.

I grew up as a missionary's kid under some very adverse conditions. My mother said thast happiness is a choice, "and I don't choose to let anyone take it from me."

Sent by John Odom | 3:31 PM | 2-20-2008

I'm curious about mid-life crisis / depression and infidelity. My partner and I are going through this now and i believe there is a depression / mid-life factor. Please offer your opinion

Sent by Michelle | 3:32 PM | 2-20-2008

Hi, I'm a 45 year-old woman and I definitely feel like I'm at the bottom curve of the veritable "U". I'm also in the midst of perimenopausal symptoms, which have increased my irritability, etc. I find that exercise and daily structure are very important to me right now. I currently live across the country from family, and I'm beginning to realize the negative impact this is having on me at this stage in my life.

Sent by Ann | 3:34 PM | 2-20-2008

Thanks for the discussion.

Two responses, one personal and one social comment.

Personally I lost my first wife to cancer over my forties and felt the expected pain, but my faith helpd me keep my balance, hope, and joy. But in my fifties I have lost my faith and along with it my joy and optimism. It's possible that this is a delayed reaction to the loss, though it does not seem so. It does make me wonder about phases of life, the sense of mortality etc. I also appreciate the distinction between sadness and the more clinical meaning of depression, which I explored with my mental health team-- though in my case it appears not be chemically based.

The other comment hs to do with the other thread in the conversation, the value of "pulling back" expectations to more reasonable levels. I have long been concerned with our society's message to our youth that they can do or be anything they want... kind of like the kids of Lake Wobegone who are all above average. I think that is setting people up for frustration and discouragement. WHat do the guests think?

Sent by Jim Revell | 3:36 PM | 2-20-2008

I am about to turn 48 in a few weeks. I am a solo parent of a disabled child I adopted on my own 5 years ago. I'm not wealthy, in fact I struggle to make ends meet. I have a master's degree and live in a funky old house.

Why am I happy? I learned a long time ago to roll with the punches and see the humor in the everyday chaos that being a single, over-educated and under-employed parent entails.

Sent by Michelle French | 3:37 PM | 2-20-2008

Back in the 80's we became simple living mode and found that this helped with issues like depression, when in the 90's and in my forties, I became a caregiver to my husband who was disabled due to a drunk driver. Now a widow, I continue the less is more, simple living lifestyle and find I am much happier than many of my peers who got sucked into the McMansion, multi car, materialistic way of life. But how many people dare march to their own healthier drummer, and how many are depressed, sick etc because they are followers who want to 'fit in'?

Sent by MotherLodeBeth | 3:43 PM | 2-20-2008

My sister took her life during an episode of acute clinical depression which leaves me with the enduring regret that I could have done something if I had recognized her symptoms early enough to help her before she got to the point of complete hopelessness and despair. How can communities do better at helping people learn how best to deal with symptoms they recognize in a loved one but aren't sure what they should and can do. There are legal and ethical concerns that aren't always easy to reconcile.

Sent by Linda Jensen | 3:55 PM | 2-20-2008

This is in response to Wednesday's program on mid-life depression. One thing that was not mentioned in the study or in the discussion was people's activity levels. I have always been very active, whether it be bicycling to south america in my 20's, mountaineering in my 30's or being an active mom in my 40's. What I have found is that no matter what is going on in my life if I can get outside and exercise I feel better. The only time I am depressed is when this is not possible. Having two young kids (2 mo. and 2 yrs.) and a disorganized husband has definately reduced the amount of time I have to do these things but my enjoyment when I do get out is more than doubled. I can take great joy in a 45 minute run in the pouring rain!

I agree with the guest speakers that at a certain point one has to re-evaluate one's goals. I may never reach the sports goals I once had but I have had new opportunities arise in my career. I now focus on continuing my field work in plant ecology and plan on having my two young sons accompany me so that I may share many of the wonders of the natural world with them.

So, by refocusing my goals and desires I can still be excited about the future. I am fortunate that my work involves a certain amount of time in nature and physical activity. This allows me to both earn an income and maintain my sanity as concerns such as mortgages, over due bills, health of aging parents, and a whole slew of other complicated financial issues associated with my husband's business threatens to plunge even the brightest person into a malaise of hoplessness.

I also understand the person who went to Iraq. Though I do not support the war and would never go in a military capacity. I have travelled enough in the third world to realise how lucky we are here. The memories of my year and a half bicycle trip to South America will always be with me and affect my outlook on life today.

Sent by cs | 4:06 PM | 2-20-2008

I am 45. We recently moved to a big city from a small town and the lifestyle change really hit hard. Now I have to commute to work and compete with 3 million people. We are fine financially, except kicking myself about buying a new house during real estate peak, where we paid a lot for less than ideal and sold a really nice (self restored house) in a great old town. All for a new job, which is fine but not challenging. I have a lot of regrets about the move, now we are far from family, and with pre-high school kids, a lot has got ME down, I get guilt feelings about pursuing "my dreams" at expense of kids seeing grandma and grandpa. My spouse loves it, plenty of warm weather and sunshine, but I can't seem to rationalize my way past the financial/lifestyle/distance aspects.... I try to remind myself how good things are compared to some others but doesn't help. I think I need to get into some volunteer stuff to keep busy and distract myself from anxious thoughts, I have too much anxiety about the future, makes it hard to focus on present. Or get some good medication?

Sent by dandy | 4:09 PM | 2-20-2008

At 59, I am finally depression free, have a juicy sex life, and a liver free of disease from taking prescription drugs for depression. Not knowing that I was living with depression (even though I wanted to die!) , after my divorce & then raising my children, I isolated & became 'clinically' depressed. I finally took anti-depressants & felt 'normal' for the first time in my life. Typically, after a few years of increasing the dosage & finding out what they were doing to my liver, I stopped taking them. I read all the alternative treatment books, watched my diet, meditated [still do], etc. to no avail.

Recently I started working with a clinically developed system of balancing my brains neurotransmitters & feel better than I ever have! Instead of a psychiatrist guessing what I should take, resulting in me going through years of very intense reactions to them, I work with a doctor who tests MY brain chemistry & prescribes a protocol of amino acid therapy, based on the results. Over time, working with this system, I have healed my kidneys [related] and balanced my chemistry. I take no drugs. I am grateful for every moment??? happy!! ??? for no reason at all, and am literally reinventing myself & my future!

Dr. Hinz, the developer of this system [NeuroScience] is the doctor that my local doctor works with. You could call them to find a local doctor or practitioner. These websites are for doctors, not really consumer-friendly, but have phone numbers to call. neuroassist.com, labdbs.com.

YOU can be happy, healthy & engaged in a new life!!

Sent by lorraine james | 4:17 PM | 2-20-2008

I was surprised at the narrowness of the "happness" discussion, which seems bounded in a nutshell. It is possible to be relatively content with one's personal life and still be very unhappy over genocide, FGM, starving children, racism, and a host of miseries that plague the world.ss

Sent by SusanW | 4:29 PM | 2-20-2008

This explains it! I was relieved when I first heard the results of this study. People can wax philosophical about happiness is a "choice", etc. But not everything in life is solved with overly simplified responses. There have been times when my response to others comments has been overly simplified until I got to experience for myself the difficulties others had described. Now I know. If you are "40-something", married with children and juggle a career, you might find that you have painted yourself into a corner and getting out (or through it) requires more thought, reflection and soul-searching than a simple "choose to be happy" attitude can provide. It's nice to know at my age (44 1/2), that most people find it gets better from here. I think it might be like the expected emotional turmoil of adolescence. Some experience it worse than others, but all experience something.

Sent by Valerie | 6:02 PM | 2-20-2008

There is an old cartoon photo of a Heron eating a frog. The frog refuses to let go of the Herons neck even though things probably wont turn out well for the frog. I'm 63 now, have had knee surgery, back surgery, cancer surgery. Trust me, you have to be like that frog, only part missing from that cartoon, it would be good have some kick a$$ rock music. Music gives the whole thing something to dance to.

Sent by witheld | 6:11 PM | 2-20-2008

A "natural" effect of aging is that neurotransmitters stop working as well, resulting in depression. The drug industry pushes... drugs, but again the clinically developed, doctor supervised amino therapy I mentioned before works well for this aging of the brain chemistry.

And yes SusanW, I agree, it is a natural and healthy response to feel very deeply moved, sobered, even despair at times, by the horrors we perpetuate in our world, as I do, but now I have the ability to feel a range of emotions, where before I only had "access" to the depths of darkness.

This world of the tragedy of birth & death and everything we do in between, compels me to take action in ways that I can, and it also reminds me that this a place to practice equanimity & truly loving, in the midst of it all.

Sent by lorraine james | 11:02 PM | 2-20-2008

I turned on this program coincidentally right after I had tried to arrange to see a therapist for some depression I have been feeling. I've never done this before, and was surprised to find out that my insurance doesn't cover any therapists in our area. I have a suspicion that a lot of depression goes untreated for that reason -- it's cost prohibitive. It's much easier and inexpensive to buy a self-help book that actually work with a trained professional. I don't know if I'll see a therapist now, but it's eye-opening to see how prevalent and troubling this could be. I'm 43, three kids, happily married, and have absolutely no reason to be depressed. It begs the question, what's the difference between depression and self-indulgent whining?

Sent by Dan | 12:45 PM | 2-22-2008