The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, October 10th, is ‘Mental health in an unequal world’. Equality comes when we all show each other the respect that we deserve or as I like to say…
If we all look after each other we will all be okay!
When look at mental health it is important to acknowledge that normal does not exists. In that sense we are all bonkers, just different kinds of bonkers and when we struggling it is okay to admit it and talk about it.
I think that it must be another sign of the effects of Covid but I keep talking to people who are telling me that they are having a midlife crisis. The thing is that the symptoms that they are describing are very like the effects of long Covid. Now, it could be that covid is having an effect or it could be that the general state of the world it taking it’s toll on us all. Then again it could that people are in a midlife crisis.
What on earth is a midlife crisis? What is midlife come to that?
Well, when it comes to timings, in theory at least, the midlife crisis has to be happening later these days as we are living longer. In previous generations people were lucky to live to 60 which would mean that their 30s would have been midlife. Now as we are all moving towards living to the magic 100 the 50s and 60s have become the new 30. In psychotherapy we are now suggesting that the people are about 20 years younger than the previous generations. That is, people at 60 are doing what their parents were still doing at 40. I guess the timing of a midlife crisis is a moveable feast.
Midlife crisis is a term first coined by Elliott Jaques he suggested that it occurred somewhere between the forties to early sixties. He looked it as being points, or periods of change and transition in life. However, there seems to be little evidence that the midlife crisis in in any way a universal phenomenon and seems more to do with the industrialised and urbanised western culture rather than the agricultural societies of Africa and Asia.
I have a theory that is born out of developmental psychology in the school of analytical psychotherapy. It is this…
… at around the age 3 to 4 most of us have set our gender role and identity. By this age we understand the concepts of male, female, mother, father, brother, sister and so on and we understand where we fit into these patterns. We also have developed internal working models, or inner concepts, that enable us to make sense of our percepts, or what we perceive to be out there. A concept is like a box full of information that explains things. So in the mother box will be all the information that we have gathered about what a mother is. So, when we see those things ‘out there’ we know what they are. We have concept boxes for all things, people, roles, talents etc.
I guess it is fairly obvious that if the things that end up in the concept boxes where mixed up we may have some odd ideas. Let’s say that when we were gathering information about mothers, to fill our mother concept box, our mother was always beating us with a stick, then we are unlikely to be able perceive that woman out there is a mother unless she is carrying a stick and beating people with it. It also follows that when we grow and become a mother we might feel that beating people with sticks is a part of the deal that we have to do to be a real mother. Anyway, I digress.
After our basic concepts have been established at around the age of 4 we enter what is termed the ‘latent’ period. This is where our focus moves from being self centred to attempting build and understand relationships. This phase is also termed ‘socialisation’. It is not until we reach adolescence that the early concepts gathered at 4 years are re-examined, re-evaluated and, if required, re-built.
It is in adolescence that we challenge all the basis assumptions that we took on early in life. This also means challenging the beliefs of our society, religion, culture, family and so on. Often this includes experimentation with various version of ourself until we find one that feels comfortable that we can own into adult life. Growing your hair down to your knees, or dying it green, or hanging your face with cutlery, or getting tattooed, travelling experiencing and experimenting are all a part of the adolescent phase. It seems to me that those people who don’t go through the rebellion of adolescence, those that do not question the current order and challenge their early concepts are vulnerable to a mid life crisis.
When people have a mid life crisis, go ‘off the rails’ or ‘lose the plot’ or do something completely out of character are now doing the things that they would normally have done in adolescence. Their behaviour often appears out of place belonging in adolescence not in middle age. We can all be vulnerable to midlife crisis because we all, or at least most of us, failed to do all that we could have done in the adolescent phase. There is the added issues that the current circumstances may be such that we feel the need to regress to adolescence in order to deal with and survive the issues.
I am using as my resource for this podcast an article from the Telegraph ‘The six signs that you could be suffering from a midlife mental crisis’. Not too sure about the word ‘mental’ in this context. It is probably better to use the word emotional. Anyway, the six symptoms or signs identifies are…
1: Two or more weeks of low mood
4: Sense of hopelessness
5: Memory loss
6: Problems sleeping
As I said all of the above have been reported to me as symptoms of long covid. But if it isn’t long covid how can we avoid the midlife crisis?
Avoiding a midlife crisis
Most people that I see who are in a midlife crisis are those feeling stuck in their current way if life or circumstances. They are seeking change, a relief from the present issues and are looking a foe new or enlightening experience. The mother when the last child leaves home. The man in his mid fifties who still have a mortgage to pay and children at Uni who need supporting. Doing the same job for years has become Groundhog Day and you feel that you have had enough. Often it is those who have had enough, that have run out of steam, motivation and energy often driven by frustration. Over all they need some fun, excitement and new experience.
To avoid the midlife crisis make sure that you are enjoying life and experiencing new things and having some fun. When we learn to express ourself and if we are enjoying who we are and where we are, then the need to do something drastically different tends not to happen. And, if it does we can do it cooperatively with our partner, family or friends.
The trick is be happy and have fun