31 January 2008

Depression common in 40s

Middle age is truly miserable, according to a study using data from 80 countries showing that depression is most common among men and women in their forties.

Middle age is truly miserable, according to a study using data from 80 countries showing that depression is most common among men and women in their forties.

The British and US researchers found that happiness for people ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe follows a U-shaped curve where life begins cheerful before turning tough during middle age and then returning to the joys of youth in the golden years.

Previous studies have shown that psychological well-being remained flat throughout life, but the new findings to be published in the journal Social Science and Medicine suggest we are in for a topsy-turvy emotional ride.

"In a remarkably regular way throughout the world people slide down a U-shaped level of happiness and mental health throughout their lives," said Andrew Oswald at Britain's Warwick University, who co-led the study.

How the research was done
The researchers analysed data on depression, anxiety levels and general mental health and well-being taken from some 2 million people in 80 countries.

For men and women the probability of depression slowly builds and then peaks when people are in their forties - a similar pattern found in 72 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe, the researchers said. About eight nations - mostly in the developing world - did not follow the U-shaped pattern for happiness levels, Oswald and his colleague David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College in the United States wrote.

"It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children," Oswald said. "Nobody knows why we see this consistency."

Reason for depression unclear
One possibility may be that people realise they won't achieve many of their aspirations at middle age, the researchers said. Another reason could be that after seeing their fellow middle-aged peers begin to die, people begin to value their own remaining years and embrace life once more.

But the good news is that if people make it to age 70 and are still physically fit, they are on average as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year old. "For the average persons in the modern world, the dip in mental health and happiness comes on slowly, not suddenly in a single year," Oswald said. "Only in their fifties do people emerge from this low period." – (ReutersHealth)

Read more:
Depression most debilitating
Omega-3 fights depression


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules