Mental health issues in your 50s: What you need to know
Taking care of our mental health is something that has become of great importance over the past few decades. We have come to recognize that good overall health must take a holistic approach and consider all parts of the body and mind to truly be effective.
Because of this shift from just looking at the physical body to looking at the multidimensional aspects of a person, mental health is often seen as just as important as physical health in the quest to be healthy.
At every age and stage of our lives, we need to be aware of the potential mental health issues that may affect us. The challenges and risks we face will change as we age, but it is important to always be cognizant of what we may face.
Like all age groups, adults in their 50s are susceptible to mental health problems. They are the third highest age group to self-report that their mental health is not as great as they would hope. Nine percent of Canadians aged 50-59 said their mental health was at best fair or poor in 2020, compared to just 6.2% in 2015.
While some of this increase can be attributed to the effects of Covid-19, year-over-year we can see an increase that started long before the pandemic.
In Canada, you are not legally a senior citizen until you’re over the age of 65. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t elements of older adulthood that are experienced at a younger age. Those in their 50s may start to experience ageism which may harm their mental and emotional well-being.
Ageism in your 50s
Ageism is the stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination towards someone or a group of people based on age. While young people can also experience ageism, it is often associated with older adults as they experience ageism on a structural and a personal level.
The global impact of ageism is shocking—one study reviewed over 14,000 studies and papers and found that ageism led to significantly worse mental health outcomes in 95.5% of the studies.
And while you might argue that when you’re in your 50s you’re still young, another study found that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be negatively impacted by ageism. They discovered that adults who experienced ageism were found to be strongly related to poorer mental health on all four mental health variables—depressive symptoms, anxious symptoms, general stress, and positive mental health or flourishing.
If you have experienced ageism and think it may be impacting your mental health, it is important to seek out care quickly.
As you enter your 50s, it is important to be aware of the mental health issues that predominantly affect people in their 50s.
In 2022, a study conducted by Mental Health Research Canada (pdf) found that those aged 50-54 were experiencing depression at the highest rate in Canada—19%—while those ages 55-60 reported a lower level of depression—7%. The cognitive implications of depression should not be ignored, even in your 50s. While you may associate cognitive decline with people in their 70s and 80s, one study found that the link between depression and cognitive symptoms peaks during middle age (45-54 years). Another study found that the transition to retirement—which is on the minds of many people in their 50s—is associated with a higher risk of depression.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health issue characterized by worrying excessively and uncontrollably about day-to-day events and activities. GAD and other forms of anxiety are often accompanied by physical symptoms like fatigue and trouble sleeping, which can ultimately lead to other physical and mental issues. 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 50-54 and 12% of Canadians ages 54-59 reported experiencing anxiety during 2022.
The average age that women transition through menopause in Canada is 51.5 years and over 90% of women are menopausal by 56. While menopause is a physiological process that people who menstruate experience, a lot of the symptoms can impact your mental health. The fluctuations and eventual loss of estrogen can have a negative impact on your mental well-being, can cause sleep disturbances, cognitive decline, and depressive symptoms, and can contribute to other more severe mental disorders like depressive disorders or schizophrenic psychoses. It is important to be aware of these potential side effects so you can face menopause with a full understanding.
Once you enter your 50s, stress may seem like an everyday part of your life. By this point, you probably have a laundry list of obligations that add more stress to your life—a career, home ownership, finances, caring for kids, elderly parents or often times both… the list goes on. Factor in taking care of your own health and well-being, and it’s no wonder you feel like stress is unavoidable. And almost ¼ of Canadians aged 50-59 say stress is a big part of their everyday lives. Twenty-two percent of Canadians aged 50-59 reported they experienced extreme stress on most days. 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 addressing and limiting your stress early on to reduce the negative effects on brain health later in life.
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.
If you are in need of mental health support in Canada, these resources can help:
Kids Help Phone
Text Services: Text "CONNECT" to 686868 (also serving adults)
Chat Services: https://kidshelpphone.ca/live-chat/
Crisis Services Canada
Toll Free (24/7): 1 (833) 456-4566
Text support (4pm-12am ET daily): 45645
Canadian Crisis Hotline
1 (888) 353-2273
The LifeLine App
Please always check with a medical professional to ensure these strategies are right for you.