Over two fifths (45%) of 45-54 year olds are unhappy with their lives, according to a new health and wellbeing report from the insurer Aviva. Based on a survey of 2,000 UK adults, The Aviva Health Check UK Report also shows that the pressures on the generation who are increasingly caring for elderly parents as well as their children, are causing the highest rates of stress and lowest rates of good health across all ages.

The findings add weight to calls for more carer-friendly policies to relieve pressure on the ‘sandwich generation’, whose health, mental wellbeing and finances are struggling under the strain of dual care responsibilities in the family.

As the population ages, with estimates that 23% of the population will be aged 65 or over by 20352, there is a well-placed focus on the health and happiness of Britain’s pensioners. However, at the same time, the pressures on the generation below – the children of Britain’s oldest citizens – are only likely to increase further.

Midlife unhappiness

As well as unhappiness peaking for those aged 45-54, those in the sandwich generation are also alarmingly less likely than any other generation to feel that their life is worthwhile. A third (33%) of this age group state that they do not feel their lives are worthwhile, compared to a UK average of 24%.

Similarly, they are less likely to feel positive about the future compared to all other age groups. Two fifths (40%) of 45-54 year olds say this, with 36% of 55-64 year olds feeling the same.

Levels of happiness start to rise again from the age of 55, with a lower 39% of 55-64 year olds saying they are unhappy with their life. Those aged 65+ are the happiest of all though, with just 27% saying they are unhappy – and 73% happy – with their lives.

Health within the sandwich generation

With work pressure and personal accountability for generational care at home, it is no surprise that health and mental wellbeing for many in this generation is poor, and is generally worse than for people aged 65 and over.

The lowest rates of good health in the UK are seen amongst 55-64 year olds with just one in four (41%) saying their health is good compared to a national average of 52%. Those slightly younger, aged 45-54, share the same rate of good health (45%) as those aged 65 and over, who traditionally are thought to be more susceptible to ill health than those in their middle years.

Stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia

More 45-54 year olds are experiencing stress than any other age group. Two fifths (41%) of people in these middle years have suffered stress in the last year, compared to a UK average of 34%.

Insomnia also affects over a quarter (27%) of 45-54 year olds, again the highest level across all age groups, with a UK average of 20% experiencing an inability to sleep.

While depression is more prevalent amongst those aged 35-44 (26%), rates are second highest for those aged 45-54, with just under a quarter (23%) of the population in this age group experiencing the condition in the last year.

Similarly, anxiety affects 24% of those aged 45-54 and 21% of those aged 55-64, with the youngest generation aged 18-24 experiencing the highest rates at 27%.

Financial worries and work/family pressures impact mental wellbeing

The rising cost of living coupled with static wage growth has affected the nation as a whole. Yet for those who are trying to support not only themselves but their children and elderly parents, financial pressures are greater and are at the root of a number of mental health issues.

Money concerns are the leading cause of anxiety across all ages, but are especially so for those aged 45-54, with two fifths (41%) citing worries over their finances as the prime cause of their anxiety. Financial concerns are also specified as the principal reason for insomnia amongst those aged 45-54, with 28% saying money worries keep them awake.

Work pressures are the leading cause of stress amongst the sandwich generation, with nearly half (46%) of 45-54 year olds stating this as the cause of stress, followed by money worries at 23%.

For a significant number though, money worries are leading to deeper problems. Amongst 45-54 year olds with depression, concerns about finances play a greater role than problem relationships, ill health and family pressures, with four out of 10 (39%) saying that money worries are the main cause.  Relationship difficulties account for 30% of depression in this age group followed by family pressures at 23%.

While the sandwich generation is clearly suffering under the weight of money concerns, they are unlikely to tell anyone about it. Three quarters (75%) of 55-64 year olds say they keep their problems to themselves and 71% of 45-54 year olds say the same.

Dr Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva UK Health, says: “In contrast to our natural belief that our health and wellbeing is worse the older we are our findings show that it actually dips much earlier than we think.

“The health and happiness of those in the sandwich generation, especially those aged 45-54, is being hit notably by financial pressures and the strains of balancing work with family responsibilities, where dual care is becoming increasingly commonplace.

“Too many in this generation are suffering stress and other mental health conditions, but at the same time are keeping their problems to themselves. It’s important they realise

that seeking help and guidance for their problems can help prevent concerns spiralling out of control into ill health. There are a range of free confidential services available in the UK as well as GPs to discuss problems with, while a large number of employers also offer assistance programmes to help employees cope with problems in their lives.”