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Discovery Counseling Shares an Article Presented by MarketWatch

Elon Musk says he may have depression, just like millions of overworked Americans in their 40s and 50s


by Quentin Fottrell
Generation X and baby boomers increasingly face mental health problems

Elon Musk is not alone.


Musk, the chief executive and founder of Tesla spoke of his “great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress” while answering questions on Twitter this week. “Don’t think people want to hear about the last two,” he added. 


And, while he has not been diagnosed with depression, Musk suggested that he may be bipolar. It’s important to distinguish between normal ups and downs and clinical depression, but there has been a rise in the latter among people of Musk’s age. Whatever the reality, his tweets shed a light on an often taboo subject.

Musk, 46, is approaching the age when the risk of depression increases. Some 11% of Generation X-ers, born between 1965 and 1979, reported being currently treated for depression, according to a 2015 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey of 173,655 adults, second only to 14% of baby boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964. The number of Generation X-ers who were treated for depression is nearly double the percentage for millennials (7%), the survey found.


Studies show that depression has risen among middle-aged American men over the last decade. And while depression is more likely to affect lower-income people it’s also common among high achievers including Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.


“If you could buy yourself out of depression, many people would,” says Mark Hamrick, Washington, D.C. bureau chief at personal-finance site Bankrate.com. “This is a person who is incredibly motivated and active in ways that few of us can actually imagine. Clearly, given his accomplishments, he’s driven and an intellectual giant along with Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Albert Einstein.”


“This is a case where his crown is also his cross,” Hamrick says. It’s difficult to keep going at that pace 24/7, says Hamrick, who — as president of the National Press Club in 2011 — hosted Musk in Washington, D.C. “As someone who was talking in 2011 about going to Mars and, given that we’re not even going to the Moon right now, you can imagine he’s taking his own temperature relative to his own aspirations.”


In fact, there is a statistically significant relationship between suicide and unemployment among middle-aged Americans, according to a March 2017 study by Princeton University professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton and published by The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy organization. They called these the “deaths of despair” in a generation that other studies suggest has been caught in a perfect storm of globalization, stagnant wages, mortgage debt and addiction to prescription medication.


Last June, Musk tweeted, “A little red wine, vintage record, some Ambien … and magic!” 

That’s a bad combination, says Denise Dudley, author of “Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted,” and a clinical psychologist. “He’s probably a highly wound-up guy and a lot of us do feel like we have to accomplish so much.”


But Dudley says it’s better to steer clear of alcohol and meds to soothe anxieties. Instead, she recommends unplugging and escaping from the daily grind. She regularly gets away to a remote cabin on Lake Manitou in Ontario, Canada where there is no cellphone service or internet. She only has a satellite phone in case of emergencies. (A spokesperson for Musk did not immediately respond to request for comment.)


The U.S. loses about $5,524 per working person each year, or 0.5% of gross domestic product due to depression and loses another $390 per working person each year because of absences from work due to depression, equivalent to 0.03% of GDP. (Depression is protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The U.S. Equal Employment Commission states that employers cannot discriminate against an employee because of a mental health diagnosis.)


People at all stages of life have a feeling that they need to earn more and accomplish more and, unlike Musk, many Americans had a harder time recovering from the Great Recession. Middle-aged Americans who lost their jobs during the recession tended to stay out of work much longer than unemployed people did during previous downturns.


And wealthy Americans are not immune. Other research has found connections between a stressful economy and depression. Sudden loss of wealth in the stock market significantly increased use of antidepressants, according to a paperpublished last year in the Journal of Health Economics. The loss of $50,000 of non-housing wealth increased the likelihood of feeling depressed by 85, but this didn’t transition to longer-term clinical depression, it concluded.


What’s more, studies show that men are less likely to seek and receive help for depression than women, and consequently, their depression may go undiagnosed. Like Musk has done with his SpaceX program and Tesla electric cars, a meaningful career becomes more important as people age and, perhaps, regretfully kiss goodbye to fulfilling their dreams, says Steve Langerud, a workplace consultant based in Grinnell, Iowa.


“Following a path that’s not deeply engaging, even when you succeed, can lead to dissatisfaction and, in extreme cases, depression,” he says. “This is a theme among my boomer clients—‘I went to the right schools, I got the right job, I bought the right things and I’m still not happy.’”