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Depression and Retirement Often Go Hand in Hand, Especially for Men

For many of us, retirement inspires mixed feelings. Of course it's an interesting phase of life to ponder. But, fantasizing about how lovely it will be to wake up without an alarm clock, or to retire the suits and ties and dress shoes to the back of the closet only to be worn again on special occasions, is really only the beginning. Pretty soon we start to wonder: what would I even do with all that free time?

For many of us, retirement inspires mixed feelings. Of course it’s an interesting phase of life to ponder. But, fantasizing about how lovely it will be to wake up without an alarm clock, or to retire the suits and ties and dress shoes to the back of the closet only to be worn again on special occasions, is really only the beginning. Pretty soon we start to wonder: what would I even do with all that free time?

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(Photo Credit: persosimoes7/Flickr)

While retirement is meant to be a time of leisure and reward, it can be more than a little difficult for folks who’ve grown accustomed to working full time to fully enjoy it. Some may even have to guard against real depression during these years. Let’s take a closer look at a few important things to keep in mind about retirement and depression – understanding these points could help you enjoy your retirement a little more, or help you support a loved one who’s entering into this exciting, but nonetheless challenging, phase of life.

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1. It’s best if you’re moving toward something, not just away from work.

The idea that it’s helpful emotionally and psychologically to feel as though you’re moving toward something rather than just moving away from something else is true during any transition in life, but it may be especially important during retirement. Our professional life receives so much of our focus, decade after decade, we don’t know what to do without it. So, it might be a good idea to have some plans in place. The big idea here is to focus on how you will spend the time, not just on what you won’t be doing. It also helps to have plans that serve a purpose beyond just keeping you busy.

“Most of the men I interviewed like the structure that work gave to their life and they really like the sense of purpose … It didn’t matter if they were the janitor or the CEO,”
Lyndsay Green, who is in the process of finalizing a book about men and retirement told The Globe and Mail. “Something they were doing was contributing to the greater good.”

2. Men are especially prone to depression in retirement.

Men may be a little extra susceptible to depression during retirement, probably because their identities are so closely tied to their jobs. The boredom that comes from not having as much to do to fill the days is exacerbated by feelings of disconnection and lack of purpose. As Americans, we define ourselves by what we do for a living, and traditionally this has been especially true for men. As a result, they can be a little extra vulnerable to depression during the retirement stage of life. Another factor to consider regarding men’s vulnerability during this time concerns their social relationships. A break in these links post-retirement can be a real challenge.

“For a lot of men it really is a loss of a sense of identity – something that we get from work,” said Marnin Heisel, an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario who is doing research alongside his colleagues on men struggling with the transition to retirement. “For a lot of guys, when they retire, they lose that social network and social connection … and the meaningful contribution they get out of what they do.”

It’s important to cultivate meaningful links to identity outside of our professional lives and to build close relationships with outside-of-work-friends and family members as well. When the majority of one’s social connections, feeling of purpose, and sense of identity comes from work, of course retirement is a little extra difficult.

3. It helps to be ready to leave.

Transitions are difficult, but they can be even more challenging when we’re not prepared for them. The fact is that about half of U.S. workers retire earlier than they had planned. Most often this happens for health reasons, but caring for others and being laid off/downsized are also common reasons for an earlier retirement than was anticipated.

Perhaps knowing that this is common is helpful for those who have already gone through it, and preparing for the possibility that you might retire before you’re really ready could help as well. We don’t have control over as much as we’d like in life, and this is as true for retirement as it is for anything else. It’s good to prepare yourself to go with the flow a little in terms of the timing.

Retirement is a phase of life that’s loaded with potential – both good and bad. Caring for yourself properly, and preparing carefully for the transition could make a big difference. Also, knowing that retirement isn’t just the extended vacation you’ve been fantasizing about for decades could reduce the stress. It turns out there’s a little more to it than that.

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think causes (or potentially prevents) the link between retirement and depression? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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