When Does Depression Peak?

We've all heard about the "midlife crisis" so often that it has become cliché. Men buy the red convertible sports car and cheat on their wives with younger women, and women decide they are tired of cooking, cleaning and taking care of everyone else aside from themselves and jet out on their own. While this seems to be the stuff of sitcoms, according to recent research, the biggest lows of our lives are indeed experienced in middle age—44 being the peak.

In a 2008 study, researchers from Dartmouth College and Warwick University in Britain analyzed data taken collected from two million people from 70 nations. Their findings: a remarkably consistent pattern of depression and happiness levels around the world. The data showed that while most of us enjoy a happy start and end to life, there is a trough in the middle, with age 44 being the year when depression peaks.

"You would expect people to get unhappier as they get closer to death but the opposite appears to be the case," said Professor Andrew Oswald, an economist from the University of Warwick and co-author of the study.

Using a sample of one million Britons, researchers found both men and women faced their biggest dip in happiness at 44, regardless of marital status, wealth or children.

"It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children," said Professor Oswald.

In the U.S.,  there was a significant difference between the sexes, with unhappiness peaking at about 40 for women and 50 for men. The U.S., however, was the only country that recorded this difference among genders.

So why do happiness and depression follow a U-shape over the course of a lifetime, bottoming out in middle age? 

Professor Oswald, along with Professor David Blanchflower from Dartmouth College who co-authored the study, said there are a number of theories why this is the case.

The first theory is that when someone is young they have high aspirations, and then in middle age they have to learn to quell them. "The 30s and 40s are painful times when reality sets in, but when you get older you've learned to accept yourself," says Oswald.

The second theory is that people who are happier live longer. Therefore, if the unhappy people have died younger, then those who remain are happier.

The third theory is that we learn to count our blessings when we get older. "We see friends and family die and we see bad things happen and are just happy to be alive," says Oswald.

So how do you know if you count among those who are depressed?

Symptoms of Depression

According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the main symptoms and signs of depression are the following:

  • persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
  • feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
  • restlessness, irritability
  • thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

While depression is a serious disease and requires medical attention, there are some natural steps you can take to help boost your mood. Try these and see the difference they can make in your life.

Mood Boosting Tips

Exercise. We've all heard this before - for good reason. Exercise naturally increases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine — the "feel-good" brain chemicals - which are sure to elevate your mood.

Get adequate sleep. The quantity and quality of your sleep affects how you feel each day. Doctors recommend getting between seven and nine hours every night, and keeping your sleep and wake times consistent. If you have trouble falling asleep, dim the room lights to help yourself transition to bedtime. Make sure your room is dark and quiet for when you sleep. If you need to, wear an eye mask and insert earplugs. 

Play with a pet. Studies indicate that pets produce a calming affect in their owners by lowering blood pressure and increasing overall psychological well-being. If you don't own a pet, consider offering to walk your neighbor's dog or cat sit when they go out of town.

Laugh. You may not feel like this is even possible. But give it a try. Rent a funny movie, watch a comedy show, call up a silly friend, or read a funny book. Laughter is great medicine. Laughter has been shown to reduce stress hormones and elevate mood.

Express yourself. Cry, talk or write about how you feel to a trusted friend or journal. Creating an emotional outlet often brings dormant feelings to the surface, and releasing them can ultimately boost your mood.

Connect with people. You might feel like crawling into bed and avoiding the world, but force yourself to connect with a particularly supportive friend or family member. Find someone you trust, someone who tends to lift you up, rather than drag you down. Lack of social interaction can affect your overall sense of well-being.

Eat healthy, balanced meals. This means eat at regular times to avoid destabilizing your blood/sugar levels. Skipping meals can exacerbate depression. Eat a balance of protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. Limit or eliminate caffeine, alcohol, and sugar that can send you on a high/low cycle

Although you may be at the age when depression is at its peak, you can use these tips alongside your current depression treatment plan. As always, consult with your doctor before making any major changes to your plan.





Blanchflower, D.G., Oswald, A.J. Is Wellbeing U-Shaped over the Life Cycle? Social Science and Medicine. 66 (2008), 1733-1749. 

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Bethesda, Maryland. Information Page. Depression. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/complete-index.shtml#pub3

Stoppler, M.C. Lee, D. (ed.) Depression Symptoms. MedecineNet.com. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=18543