What is a midlife crisis?

There are many definitions of a midlife crisis, here are the three most common dictionary definitions:

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a mid-life crisis as

“an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age”

An alternative definition is given by Webster’s:

a period of emotional turmoil in middle age caused by the realization that one is no longer young and characterized especially by a strong desire for change

The Collins definition is:

A crisis that may be experienced in middle age involving frustration, panic, and feelings of pointlessness, sometimes resulting in radical and often ill-advised changes of lifestyle”

The definition of a word is rarely so different between the major dictionaries in the English speaking world. Each of these definitions is correct, and yet is also incomplete, only when combined do they begin to cover the breadth of what a midlife crisis is.

Medicine does not recognize midlife crisis as a condition. It is referenced in relation to specific symptoms such as depression, erectile dysfunction, etc., but midlife crisis is, in itself, not a medical condition.

Psychology gives a little more credence to the topic, but there is still no consensus in that field of expertise, debate continues as to the validity of midlife crisis as a true condition. Many studies have been run looking at the possible causes and symptoms of midlife crisis and the results have, at times, been contradictory, however most studies do recognize midlife crisis is a convenient way to describe the condition some people experience in mid-life.

This lack of expert agreement, and lack of medical definition make it impossible to truly diagnose someone with midlife crisis. While the medical profession may not recognize midlife crisis, hundreds of thousands of people are left coping with something that is very real to them. Whilst some non-physical conditions (We are deliberately avoiding using the phrase ‘mental illness’), such as depression, are beginning to be recognized as illnesses and can be treated, accepted and even understood by the population at large, the midlife crisis remains a lesser condition.

To us, and to many thousands of people, a midlife crisis is something that manifests over time, it is not something that occurs overnight. A midlife crisis is not immediately identifiable, it affects each person differently and the symptoms can be easily mistaken for other things. A midlife crisis is a confusing time, confusing because it may not make sense to the person experiencing it, or to the other people affected by it. A midlife crisis is upsetting, a midlife crisis is challenging but most importantly of all a midlife crisis is not the end, it can be conquered, it can be the start of a new lease on life and it can mean the fulfillment of life’s dreams.

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