Do Boomer Women Cope Differently With Depression?
By Sarah Fader
Updated February 28, 2019
Reviewer Lauren Fawley
Depression is a very serious mental health issue with statistics suggesting that around 20% of all people experience a depressive episode sometime during their lives. There are situational factors during different stages of life that have the impact of contributing to depression for those that are predisposed.
It can seem to some that more depression exists in younger people, but is this misconception true? Do women of the baby boomer generation really have it any different, do they just cope better, or perhaps they are more private when it comes to talking about depression or other mental health problems? Statistics for suicide and the prevalence of mental health problems show that Boomer women are at higher risk for suicide than women in other age categories. To understand this statistic, we must look at factors that are more present in the lives of Boomer women than those in other stages of life. Some of these are chronic physical illnesses that come with age, other bodily changes related to age, losing loved ones, financial stressors, and loss of identity in later life.
People in the Boomer generation that lost jobs during the recent recession beginning around 2008 suffered a harder time trying to find a new one for various reasons including ageism and the lack of well-paying jobs available to those later in their careers. Financial troubles were certainly among the highest reasons for their depression that Boomers reported during this time. In fact, according to Rutgers University, the level of unemployment among Boomers is the main reason for the overall rise in suicide rates since 2005. Many also lost much of their retirement savings with the stock market losses, with much less time in the workforce to regain those earnings back.
Sudden loss of wealth may increase the likelihood of depression and the use of anti-depressants. Interestingly, in many instances, this may not be long-term depression that will reoccur, but situational depression experienced during a transitional period after bad news (such as job loss). Loss of wealth can also be due to increasing health care costs, which complicates the diagnosis of a physical health condition.
The transition to retirement can (maybe counterintuitively) contribute to depression, as work has helped fulfill an important, often central, focus of life for many years. Not working can feel like a void, even when you feel you may have waited your whole life to be able to enjoy retirement. Many Boomers may feel some regret when reflecting on their lives; even though they may have done everything they were supposed to do, they may still be left feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. Perhaps there are dreams that they realize will now ultimately go unfulfilled.
The contrast here is that Millennial women seem to have received a more balanced message about their roles as women than Boomer women. Their jobs may give them fulfillment in addition to monetary security. This does not necessarily mean that they are coping better with life stress; it just means they are tackling different issues. Many Boomers are unable or reluctant to retire. The unstable economic climate and the high cost of living may cause them to work longer and feel that they can never retire. Millennials, on the other hand, have ample time to make mistakes and choose another life path - their time is not so limited. There was more of a generational focus on motherhood or being a "housewife" and less opportunity in the workplace for Boomer women as well.
It is said that the Millennials are the "most depressed generation"; and statistically this is true, but only by a scant 4%, with the gap closing quickly. This figure illustrates that depression affects people of all ages; but, why do we have a preconception that older people are less prone to depression? Perhaps Millennials are quicker to address symptoms of depression because they have received more education about mental health issues and have grown up during a time where it is more common to talk openly about mental struggles. The stigma associated with depression now is lower than it was even 10-20 years ago. This could be one possible explanation of why millennial rates of suicide are lower.
Loss of Health and Loved Ones
In later stages of life, it is more likely to experience major losses both of your health and the health and lives of loved ones. Grief is felt at 100%, no matter how old you become or how many times you have had to say good-bye to a loved one. It is difficult to begin contemplating your mortality, and this happens naturally as age advances. At this stage of life, a Boomer woman may find herself living alone for the first time if her husband has died and her children are no longer living at home.
Also, the correlation between chronic illness and depression has been well-documented. It is more likely to experience an illness later in life that limits the ability to participate in normal activities, stay active socially, and feel good in your body.
It may seem like Boomer women experience less depression because they are less likely to seek out a mental health professional for help. Millennial women are seeking help more willingly than Boomers, and this could contribute to younger women recovering from depression more quickly or not experiencing depression that is very severe. It is also important to note that many younger people have the support of parents, grandparents, and friends which Boomer women may no longer have to the same extent. Boomer women can have a tendency not to want to lean on their children for support because they have been used to being the parent, not the one who needs care.
Whether you are a Boomer, a millennial woman, or somewhere in between (hello, Generation X!) there is no need to feel embarrassed about seeking professional help. It is so important to reach out to others when you are suffering from depression. You deserve to feel like you have a life worth living. If you feel too uncomfortable to ask for help from family, there is a rich world of professional help and resources available. Even if you are not quite ready to walk through the door and talk to a counselor in person, online counseling platforms like BetterHelp allow you to seek help and guidance from the comfort of your home. You have options in choosing the type of therapy that is right for you. If you are feeling depressed, it is never too late to learn something new; just because you are older does not mean you do not have the same chance at experiencing life with deep satisfaction and contentment.