Mental health issues in your 40s: What you need to know
Over the last few decades, the importance of good mental health has come into the spotlight. We’ve learned the importance of self-care, mental wellness, and taking care of our emotional selves as much as we have always been taught the importance of taking care of our physical health.
At every stage of our lives we face different mental health challenges. And while these challenges and risks change depending on our age, mental health is always something that we should pay attention to. The sooner we start addressing our mental health, the better.
Canadians in their 40s are not immune to mental health issues. Just over 10% of Canadians aged 40-49 said their mental health was at best fair or poor in 2020, up from 7.7% in 2019. While this increase is attributed to the changes experienced due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is still a number that shouldn’t be ignored. Also, more than 50% of suicides happening in Canada (pdf) each year involve people ages 45 or older.
With these kinds of statistics it’s clear that we should be taking care of our mental well-being, but are we?
The stigma of mental health
As we as a society talk more and more about the importance of good mental health, the stigma that has long been associated with these discussions is starting to disappear. But if research has shown us anything, it is that fear of this stigma still exists.
When speaking to employed Canadians, 75% said they would be reluctant to tell their boss or coworkers that they were suffering from a mental illness. The same study found that people were 3 times more likely to want to disclose a physical illness like cancer than they would a mental illness like depression to those in their workplace.
The stigmatization of mental health issues leads to a delay in seeking help, which results in a delay in treatment, and, therefore, in poor outcomes. It also challenges the management of other chronic diseases that may be occurring alongside mental illness.
Simply put, mental health stigma keeps people from getting proper care and treatment and creates larger issues in the long run. Even in your 40s, you are not free from the stigma that affects so many people.
If you are experiencing symptoms or think your mental health may be suffering, it is important to seek out care.
As you enter your 40s, it is important to be aware of the mental health issues that predominantly affect people in your age group.
In 2022 a study conducted by Mental Health Research Canada (pdf) found that those in their 40s are experiencing higher rates of depression than any other group. Nineteen percent of the Canadian population between 40 and 49 has reported experiencing depression—while this is down from the peak of Covid-19, it is still elevated from the pre-pandemic numbers. Depression is also likely to have cognitive symptoms for those in their 40s. While many people associate those symptoms with older adults, studies have shown that they peak in middle age (45-54 years).
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Characterized by worrying excessively and uncontrollably about day-to-day events and activities, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health issue that is often accompanied by physical symptoms like fatigue and trouble sleeping. During Covid-19, GAD had a stronghold in Canada—13.6% of Canadians experienced GAD, with women being more affected than men (17.2% versus 9.9%). Another study (pdf) found that 27% of Canadians aged 40-49 reported experiencing anxiety during 2022.
While not a mental health disorder, loneliness is a contributing factor to poor mental health. One study looked at the levels of loneliness throughout the decades and they pinpointed a peak in the mid-40s. The study also looked at the factors associated with loneliness across the decades, highlighting sleep disturbances, prosocial behaviours, higher anxiety, and lower social self-efficacy as factors both caused by and contributing to loneliness.
It might seem near impossible to avoid stress in your 40s—when you approach mid-life you may have some combination of a career, family, home, and other obligations to take care of. Add to that taking care of your health and well-being, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Stress is not something that only affects people aged 40-49, but studies have found that the occurrence of stress during mid-life can have a larger negative impact as you age. A study conducted in Denmark found that severe stress in midlife is “an important risk factor for dementia”. The study points out the importance of diagnosis and treatment early on to reduce the negative effects on brain health later in life.
Burnout is a state of complete emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that occurs when a person is exposed to stress for extended periods on a daily basis. Because of this definition, it is often associated with working-age people. Eighty-four percent of Canadian workers have experienced burnout because of increased workload, mental health challenges, and insufficient compensation. An additional 27.5% of Canadians aged 40-49 perceive their life to be extremely stressful most days—this age group reported more daily stress than any other age group.
Signs of mental health issues to look out for
Mental health is something that should always be on your radar. And while we can do everything in our power to protect our good mental health, it is also important to know the warning signs of mental health disorders to be able to react—and get help—quickly. Some of the signs of mental health issues you can look for are:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in mood including anger, sadness, or irritability
- Unusual or out-of-character behaviour
- Memory loss
- Withdrawal from their usual routine
- Increased dependence on drugs or alcohol
- Sudden weight gain or loss
If you have concerns about your mental well-being—or the mental well-being of someone you love—contact a doctor and ask for an evaluation.
Please always check with a medical professional to ensure these strategies are right for you.