Andropause or male menopause: why do men go through a mid-life crisis?


I remember my dad going through a ‘mid-life crisis’. He regularly bought new things. A newer, bigger car, a boat, a better TV, a computer. As a family, we laughed about his obsession with bright, shiny new toys. Thankfully, it only lasted a few years, and I learned a lot about cars in that time!

Aside from the symptoms associated with a ‘mid-life crisis’ what is really going on for men during this time? Even in the medical profession there is mixed opinion about something known as ‘male menopause’ or ‘andropause’. These are not interchangeable terms and neither explains everything.

Here is what I have uncovered over the years…

Male menopause is used to describe the decreasing testosterone levels related to ageing. However, unlike female menopause, which is usually a drastic change, men’s testosterone levels decline over a much longer time period – usually 20 years or so – reducing by only about 1% per year. Often this decrease isn’t noticeable and only 10 – 25% of older men are considered to have low levels of testosterone. Usually, they are only tested because of other medical issues they might be experiencing.

Like women, a reduction in men’s testosterone levels can result in decreased energy levels, lack of motivation and confidence, depressed mood, and poor concentration. There is also a high rate of increased sleepiness, disturbed sleep, unexplained anaemia, reduced muscle bulk and strength and increased body fat.

Alongside these physical symptoms, men in the workplace now often have young children during their mid-life. They might also have ageing parents who they are suddenly more responsible for, all while still juggling their own careers and sense of identity related to their jobs. It’s a perfect storm of life change.

Suddenly, parents who were once their carers have become dependent on them. They might now have children who become more of a priority in the household than they are. And, at work, men see women returning after having children, fired up, at the peak of their own careers and challenging for the next job on the promotion ladder.

I have observed this time and time again, when men are suddenly cast into a shadow; not sure of their place, either at home, in their family, or in their career, all while experiencing less energy and less sleep, often causing moodiness or even depression.

I notice men at this stage go one of three ways:

  1. Continue up that career ladder and keep pushing to get to the top (in the hope that they can have an early retirement), either because they feel they have to continue supporting the lifestyle they and their family have created OR because that’s all they know.
  2. Accept that they are happy with their place in the world and content with their choices and where they are in their career – although this is often accompanied by feelings of not being heard and being undervalued by their organisation.
  3. Decide to change career, generally opting for a ‘less stressful’ occupation or one that is more purposeful than their previous career.

It may seem like a generalisation but based on my observations, working across multiple countries and continents, in different industries, over several years, women are usually better at talking about how they are feeling and often more open to be vulnerable.

So, we need to understand that men can be starting to feel less valued, question their sense of identity, who they are and what they represent. Their world is spinning.

As we get better at looking into the impact of changing hormones on women at work, we should also start talking about what is going on for men at this time too.

Obviously, for women, menopause is far more drastic and therefore the impact is arguably more significant. Not to mention the traditional gender inequalities that occur, especially in the workplace. It just seems like men are ignoring what is going on for themselves and perhaps could also benefit from understanding their ageing process and how it impacts their mood, energy, and mental health – and the potential influence this has on their career.

We have come a long way in the past few years to open the gates for women to gain access to treatment, support and education on peri/menopause. Just like women at this stage, lifestyle changes around nutrition, strength-based exercise and daily mindfulness will benefit men and lead to overall improvements in health and wellbeing. For some, therapy or coaching could also be hugely beneficial.

If being menopause supportive is step one, perhaps step two is understanding the male mid-life crisis isn’t just a punchline.

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