Transition to Retirement: Beating Depression

An image from Australian anti-depression group Beyond Blue's advertising campaign.The stereotypical transition to retirement sees the happy retiree leave behind a world of troubles and stress for a new life of leisure. Sadly, for many people, this is not the case. A wide variety of factors can make retirement difficult to cope with. Many people feel like their main purpose in life has been stripped from them and slip into depression. In this article we'll deal with the common causes and symptoms of post-retirement depression, and how best to cope with them.

Symptoms of Depression

It's difficult for many people to admit they're depressed. They may put their anxiety and lack of energy down to a variety of different things. But if some of the following symptoms are present, the retiree may be clinically depressed, and is best advised to seek some kind of help.

  • Constant feelings of sadness, hopelessness, numbness or anxiety.
  • Losing the ability to enjoy things you'd do normally.
  • Being overly self critical. Feelings that things are out of your control.
  • Loss of motivation and energy to do the things you'd normally enjoy.
  • Loss of appetite and changes in sleeping patterns.
  • Heavy drinking or use of other drugs.
  • Withdrawing from family or friends, or conversely becoming overly dependent on them.

Causes of Post-Retirement Depression

In the modern world, many people define themselves by their work. It's this productive role that gives life structure and meaning. So when that disappears upon retirement, many people find themselves wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. The transition is particularly hard for those who defined themselves strongly through their work, and for those who are used to occupying the spotlight and receiving praise and respect from others. For many men, especially, it's important to be seen as the breadwinner in the home. The loss of this role may bring feelings of uselessness.

Retirees may also find their plans do not match the reality of retirement. For instance, they may have planned to spend an increased amount of time with family in their post-retirement years. But their children are most probably leading busy lives themselves. Retirement can also cause spousal conflict - all of a sudden, two people who only saw each other for a few hours each day are constantly in one another's pockets. For more detail on this, see our article on dealing with marriage pressures after retirement.

A common complaint among retirees is a feeling of boredom.  Too many retirees fill in this time with excessive drinking - retirement is a golden chance to do the things you've always wanted to do.

How to Beat Depression in Retirement

One key piece of advice is to keep active, both mentally and physically. Perhaps there were hobbies that you were forced to give up due to your busy lifestyle. Perhaps there are things that you've always wanted to learn. Developing these hobbies into something more substantial - possibly even a post-retirement career - is an ideal way to start using extra time. While it may sound like a cliché, many happy retirees say that it's important to look at your post-work life as a new beginning. And keeping healthy through physical exercise is also a key component of this.

Another thing to consider trying is to move into retirement gradually. If your work will allow it, move back into part-time work for a couple of years. Learn how to make the best use of this spare time and get an idea of what you'd like to do once you finish work entirely.

Relationships are key to happiness, so much sure that you nurture yours. Make an effort to stay in touch with friends from work and use your extra time to renew friendships with people who you love, but perhaps could not find time for before. If your children and grandchildren are close by, offer to be a babysitter.

If you feel like you are sliding into depression, then don’t be afraid to seek help. There is a wide variety of organisations in countries around the world that offer support and advice. In the US, try Mental Health America or one of hundreds of local organisations. 

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