Is It a Midlife Crisis or Depression?

Midlife Crisis

Perhaps you’re one of the many people worldwide who, at the midpoint in your journey of life, have found yourself suddenly “within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost,” to quote the great Italian writer Dante Alighieri. If so, the question before you may be: Are you depressed, or are you just having a midlife crisis? It’s not uncommon for anyone between the ages of roughly 40 and 60 to experience uncomfortable feelings associated with one or both.

Finding the answer may require navigating a bit of nuance, for while depression can serve as a handmaiden to a midlife crisis, that is not always the case. In fact, the two states are not one and the same.

While a midlife crisis is a form of identity crisis that calls for a jolt of new thinking, depression is a brain-based condition that may require comprehensive treatment. Click To Tweet


Depression is a brain-based disorder, which can be characterized by some or all of the following symptoms:

  • a loss of interest in possessions or activities you once held dear
  • a loss of or an increase in appetite, often featuring weight loss or gain
  • difficulty sleeping
  • lapses in concentration
  • listlessness, with a drop in energy
  • persistent negative thoughts or hopelessness
  • suicidal ideation

It’s not a state that anyone should have to endure, unaddressed, whether at the midpoint in life or at any other age. Decades of clinical practice at Amen Clinics have shown that treatments, including talk therapy, physical exercise, diet, natural supplements, bright light therapy, neurofeedback, and medication (when necessary), may be beneficial for depressive symptoms. Additional treatments include transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy, an FDA-approved treatment that does not involve drugs and is non-invasive.

The brain-imaging work at Amen Clinics has also found that depression is not one single or simple disorder; there are multiple types. Knowing your type of depression can be helpful in finding the most effective treatments for you.


By contrast, a midlife crisis is a form of identity crisis in which a person judges their own life path and selfhood as inadequate. It may feature a creeping or sudden:

  • feeling of inadequacy when comparing one’s life to others
  • sense of time slipping away
  • conviction that you’ve failed to live up to your potential
  • pronounced fear of mortality, followed by urges to make dramatic changes, such as divorcing, marrying, moving across the globe, or buying the proverbial sports car

If depression is part of the bargain, then the treatment methods cited above can help. But addressing the thoughts driving a midlife crisis may call for some counterintuitive thinking to help you refresh your perspective.


“The death dragon,” as Dr. Amen puts it, “is always with us. As a psychiatrist for 40 years now, I’ve seen midlife crises over and over and over again.”

To wrangle with this inner “mental” dragon, Dr. Amen urges patients not to shy away from the prospect of their own demise, but to face it head-on, as he did when he was in college. At that relatively young age, Dr. Amen wrote out the script to his own funeral and has used it to guide his life ever since.

“I reverse-engineered my life,” Dr. Amen says, citing the pioneering work of psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross as an inspiration. “She said it is the denial of death that is responsible for people living empty, purposeless lives because when you think you are going to live forever you don’t take care of the things you must do today.”

By contrast, people who live as though they could die imminently tend to live in the moment, he says.

Those who address their midlife crises—and their mortality—head-on can launch themselves into a golden era of renewed passion and transformation. The period of reassessment during that fabled midpoint can produce change that is both surprising and welcome.

Long is the list of artists and innovators whose most fertile periods began later in life. The famed chef Julia Child made her television debut at age 51 after publishing her first cookbook at age 49. Bram Stoker published his masterwork “Dracula” at age 50.


To reassess at the midpoint of life consider taking some of the following actions:

  • Write your own eulogy. Knowing how you want people to remember you can help guide you to a stronger sense of purpose in your life.
  • Start therapy to help uncover and discard blocks to happiness
  • Learn something new, such as a language, a skill like dancing, or a sport like pickleball.
  • Spend more time outdoors. Science has long identified the beneficial impact of nature on mental health.
  • Invest in your love life. Recommit to a long-term partner to reinvigorate your connection, consider exiting an unhealthy relationship, or start dating again after a long hiatus.
  • Find new horizons, whether near or far to explore.
  • Add a new brain-healthy habit to your repertoire. This could include improving your sleep hygiene, drinking more water, eating more vegetables, or meditating.
  • Find new ways to spend time with friends and families. Plan ahead with loved ones to go to the movies, share more meals, take more walks or hikes together, as well as trips, both long and short.

Above all, stick it out.

While several studies have described the despair that besets many people between the middle years of 40 to 60, other research has found that people over the age of 60 say they’ve never felt better.

Depression and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. For some of us part of the midlife crisis is really grief – loss of Parents, aunts and uncles and entire generation above us, sone friends die and get diseases and kids empty nest and move far away and inaccessible grandkids. So it’s important to join new groups and have gratitude for what you do hade and step us self care to be healrhy.

    Comment by Lisa — May 17, 2023 @ 9:34 AM

  2. wonderful article!

    Comment by douglas morris — May 25, 2023 @ 5:05 PM

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