Depression: How Retirement Increases the Likelihood

We all look forward to being “free” in retirement. Free to pursue our hobbies, interests, and relationships on our own schedule. Many people have a vision of retirement shaped by the pictures they see in magazines of happy couples walking on the beach or laughing with friends at a backyard BBQ. This is the type of retirement that I (as your financial advisor) want for you. Yet the reality is many retirees find themselves bored, anxious, or depressed. The two things most likely to cause depression are: being physically inactive and/or socially isolated. Both conditions are more likely once retired. A 2012 study in the Journal of Happiness found that many retirees experience a brief period of well-being and immediately following retirement, which is then followed by a sharp decline in happiness. In fact, a study by the Institute of Economic Affairs found that retirement increases your risk of clinical depression by 40%.

Most pre-retirement planning focuses around financial preparedness. There is no shortage of financial advisors who are ready, willing, and able to help you answer questions like: Do I have enough money? When should I collect Social Security? Do I need a living trust? etc. Financial security is very important, but a lot of wealthy retirees are still not happy.

Underestimating the Psychological Adjustments

It is easy to underestimate the psychological adjustments required when you stop working for a living. You lose your career identity and the social networks you had through work.  There is also the challenge of figuring out new and engaging ways to spend your time.

I do not want to paint too bleak of a picture. Retirement can and should be the most fulfilling and contented time of your life. The population of retirees is a bit like a barbell. On one side are retirees who transition smoothly into retirement, spending more time traveling, enjoying hobbies, volunteering, and engaging with family and friends. On the other side are those that are at risk for depression.  They feel lost without the structure and social interaction they got from their career.

This life transition is generally more difficult for men. This is because more of their identity is typically wrapped up in their career and they are less likely to have a thriving social life outside of work. Men do not tend to talk about depression or seek help for it because they do not want to seem weak or “unmanly.” This can become a serious problem. Men are four times as likely as women to commit suicide, and the suicide rate doubles between age 65 and 85 for men.

Another aspect that sometimes surprises new retirees is how hard retirement can be on your marriage. Incompatible goals between spouses may have been masked by time spent at the office. The increased time spent together can be particularly hard for women, as explained in this article: How Retirement Can Hurt Your Marriage (and what you can do about it).

What You Can Do To Avoid Depression

Let’s face it; retirement is a major life transition, like going off to college, getting married for the first time, or becoming empty nesters. It may take a little time to get used to. The best thing you can do is plan in advance and don’t be freaked out if it feels different than you imagined. Here are some tips for a smooth transition and a great retirement:

  • Don’t worry about what you think you should be doing or what anyone else thinks you should be doing in retirement. Obligatory tasks kill vitality regardless of age. You are retired. It’s your time to do what you want.
  • Develop a schedule. It may sound like a great idea to throw your alarm clock off a cliff and shun any commitments. However, a sudden lack of structure can be unsettling. Perhaps you don’t need to wake up at 5:00 a.m. anymore, but I recommend that you plan to be up by a certain time with activities scheduled for specific days each week.
  • Invest in friendships. Rekindle old friendships, develop new ones, and try to find friends in different age groups. Reading books and puttering around the house may be comfortable, but those activities do not have the same benefits for your mental health as being around people. The easiest way to make new friends is through new activities such as sports, seminars, cooking classes, travel, hiking clubs, poker night, book clubs, yoga, wine tasting, etc.
  • Get professional help. You may want to consider hiring a retirement life coach for some help thinking and planning the next phase of your life. The folks who sit down and discuss/plan their post-retirement goals are the ones who typically have a more satisfied, fulfilling retirement. Also, you may want to talk to a therapist if you have the symptoms of clinical depression. This can especially be beneficial for married couples and can/should be done before you retire to get on the same page about expectations and concerns.

I know that most of my clients are truly enjoying retirement. That being said, if you are ever feeling down, feel free to give me a call. You can always count me among your circle of friends.

For more on the signs and symptoms of depression, check out: A Blueprint When Feeling Blue