The pandemic may have triggered a second ‘midlife crisis’ for the over-50s

The pandemic may have triggered a second ‘midlife crisis’ for the over-50s

Summary: Anxiety and depression arising from the COVID-19 pandemic appear to be triggering a second “midlife crisis” among people aged 50 and over. Researchers say women have struggled more than men with psychological distress during the pandemic, which can exacerbate and accelerate neurodegeneration, mental health, and overall health disorders.

Source: King’s College London

British adults have experienced the highest levels of poor mental health on record during the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering a second ‘midlife crisis’.

The results also showed that women struggled more than men during the pandemic, which researchers say could be due to women taking on a greater share of unpaid care work such as household chores. , home schooling and family responsibilities.

New research from the Center for Society and Mental Health and the UCL Center for Longitudinal Studies is published today in OLP Medicine.

The researchers analyzed data collected over four decades from more than 16,000 adults, born in 1946, 1958 and 1970, who take part in three UK birth cohort studies. Participants’ levels of psychological distress were assessed repeatedly throughout their adult lives, using a series of questions that captured symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Participants were also interviewed at three points in the first year of the pandemic: in May 2020, September/October 2020 and February/March 2021.

This shows a middle aged man
Psychological distress has been known to peak in midlife, before improving again as people age. Image is in public domain

In the fall of 2020, people born in 1958 and 1970 had, on average, higher levels of psychological distress than they had ever experienced as adults. People born in 1946 had levels of psychological distress similar to their previous peak in their 40s in their early 50s.

Psychological distress has been known to peak in midlife, before improving again as people age. This is often referred to as the “midlife crisis” in mental health.

Women have struggled more than men with their mental health across all age groups, widening the already substantial gender inequalities in mental health that existed before the pandemic.

Researchers explained that this second unforeseen midlife mental health crisis could accelerate and exacerbate the onset of chronic mental health problems and other related health conditions, disproportionately affecting women and increasing pressures on the NHS. .

“We know that anxiety and depression are among the leading causes of illness in the world. In addition to the suffering they cause, mental health problems are closely linked to many physical health problems, including increased morbidity.

“The fact that we are seeing an unexpected new spike in mental health issues that may lead to these long-term trajectories is deeply concerning,” said lead author Dr. Darío Moreno-Agostino of the ESRC Center for Society and Mental Health.

About this psychology research news

Author: Press office
Source: King’s College London
Contact: Press Office – King’s College London
Picture: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
Long-term psychological distress trajectories and the COVID-19 pandemic in three UK birth cohorts: a multi-cohort study” by Dario Moreno-Agostino et al. OLP Medicine


Long-term psychological distress trajectories and the COVID-19 pandemic in three UK birth cohorts: a multi-cohort study


A growing body of evidence suggests that mental health outcomes for the population have deteriorated since the start of the pandemic. The extent to which these changes altered common age-related trends in psychological distress, where distress typically increases until midlife and then decreases after midlife in both sexes, is unknown. We sought to analyze whether long-term pre-pandemic psychological distress trajectories were disrupted during the pandemic, and whether these changes differed across cohorts and across genders.

Methods and results

We used data from three nationally representative birth cohorts comprising all people born in Britain in a single week of 1946 (National Survey of Health and Development, NSHD), 1958 (National Child Development Study, NCDS) or 1970 (British Cohort Study, BCS70). The follow-up data used covered 39 years in the NSHD (1982 to 2021), 40 years in the NCDS (1981 to 2001) and 25 years in the BCS70 (1996 to 2021). We used psychological distress factor scores, as measured by validated self-report questionnaires (NSHD: Present State Examination, Psychiatric Symptoms Frequency, and 28- and 12-item versions of the General Health Questionnaire; NCDS and BCS70: Malaise Inventory; all : 2-item versions of the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale and Patient Health Questionnaire).

We used a multilevel growth curve modeling approach to model distress trajectories across cohorts and genders and obtained estimates of the differences between the levels of distress observed during the pandemic and those observed during the assessment. most recent pre-pandemic and at the peak of the cohort. – specific pre-pandemic distress trajectory, located at quarantine. We further analyzed whether pre-existing cohort and gender inequalities changed with the onset of the pandemic using a difference-in-differences (DiD) approach.

The analytical sample included 16,389 participants. By September/October 2020, levels of distress had reached or exceeded peak levels in pre-pandemic life course trajectories, with larger increases in younger cohorts (standardized mean differences (SMDs) and confidence intervals at 95% of DMSNSHD, pre-peak = −0.02 (−0.07, 0.04), SMDNCDS, pre-peak = 0.05 (0.02, 0.07) and CMSBCS70, pre-peak = 0.09 (0.07; 0.12) for the birth cohorts of 1946, 1958 and 1970, respectively). Increases in distress were greater in women than in men, deepening pre-existing gender inequalities (DiD and 95% confidence intervals of DiDNSHD, sex, pre-peak = 0.17 (0.06, 0.28), DiDNCDS, sex, pre-peak = 0.11 (0.07, 0.16) and DiDBCS70, sex, pre-peak = 0.11 (0.05, 0.16) when comparing gender inequalities in the pre-pandemic peak in midlife to those observed in September/October 2020).

As expected in the cohort designs, our study suffered from high proportions of attrition compared to the original samples. Although we have used nonresponse weights to restore the representativeness of the sample to the target populations (those born in the UK in 1946, 1958 and 1970, living and residing in the UK), the results may not be generalizable to other sections of the UK population. (eg migrants and minority ethnic groups) and countries other than the UK.


The pre-existing trajectories of long-term psychological distress of adults born between 1946 and 1970 have been disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among women, who have reached the highest levels ever recorded in 40 years of tracking data. . This may impact future trends in morbidity, disability and mortality from common mental health conditions.

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