The transition to retirement can be rough. Culturally and socially, we equate retirement with the good life. Yet for many, retirement stress is real and inescapable.
Roughly 25 percent of adults aged 65 or older have some type of mental health issue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors that eventually interfere with daily life and the ability to recover from illness.
“While it can be a wonderful time of life, retirement often doesn’t quite live up to our dreams of what it will be like,” says Hyong Un, M.D, chief psychiatric officer of Aetna Behavioral Health. “A number of factors can be at play. Perhaps they are caring for someone else just when they thought it was their turn to pursue new opportunities. Or maybe they have a chronic health condition that requires expensive medicine, or they had an unexpected expense that drained their savings, or perhaps they were never able to save much and had to retire sooner than they wanted to.”
All of these challenges can lead to retirement stress which then grows into depression. Friends and family may notice changes, but it takes a lot for someone to admit they feel depressed when others around them think retirement is carefree.
Chronic illness plays a big role in retirement stress
Today more than 70 million Americans ages 50 and older – four out of five older adults – suffer from at least one chronic condition. That number is expected to rise rapidly as the Baby Boomer population (currently between the ages of 52 and 70) continues to age.
“Chronic diseases have an all-consuming nature to them,” Un says. “As a result, the person is not just dealing with physical issues; they are wrestling with a mental component as well. A chronic disease diagnosis attached to a mental health illness can be crushing combination.”
“Chronic disease can evoke a wide range of emotions. A key to coping is to manage what you can manage and understand what you can’t,” he says. “I recommend regular health checkups, local support groups, social activity and generally engaging in life around you to try to beat retirement blues.”
What to do if it’s depression
Older adults who have experienced depression when they were younger are at a much higher risk for developing depression later in life. Depression can also be related to genetics and brain chemistry. If you or someone you know is suffering from more than a bout of sadness, get help.
Only a qualified physician or mental health provider can provide a complete assessment and diagnosis of depression, but if you aren’t sure if you should even make an appointment, Aetna offers an online depression screening tool that anyone can use to help determine if some professional care and treatment might be in order. If you decide to seek some help, organize your thoughts ahead of time to make the most of your session.