When retirement has a negative impact on your mental health...

By Megan Giles: Retirement Transition Consultant

There are a number of reports which indicate that retirement can have a negative impact on your mental health. That the loss of status, connection, identity and drive can lead to depression, and that this is particularly prevalent amongst men. This is not surprising given that retirement represents a significant life change and can result in much upheaval to life as we know it. It does, however, beg the question is the transition into retirement the sole catalyst for poorer mental health or is there something else at play?

Interestingly, there is Australian research which suggests that the reason an individual exits the workforce is a more likely determinant of poor mental health in retirement (Olesen, Butterworth & Rodgers, 2012). For example, people can have a harder time adjusting when retirement is forced due to ill health or is involuntary (i.e. a redundancy).

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In short, when individuals are unable to retire on their own terms, their wellbeing suffers. 

So what can you do to protect your psychological and emotional health if you are stepping into retirement prematurely?

1.       Have a plan.

Even if you don’t intend to retire in the near future, at least think about what retirement might look like for you. Poor health or a redundancy is not something that people anticipate in advance. They typically transpire rather unexpectedly. Your plan doesn’t have to be detailed nor perfect but it will allow you to have something to guide you in adjusting to life after work.

2.       Build a strong social network.

The people who do best in retirement are those who are engaged in their local community and regularly spend time with friends and family. Don’t feel you are a burden and don’t be afraid to draw on these people who the times are tough, as you know that you would help them in a heartbeat if the roles were reversed.

3.       Take the time to grieve.

In stepping out of the workforce you are letting go of a significant part of your identity. It’s okay to feel sad, to cry, to be angry even. Acknowledge that you are letting go of colleagues, direction, and a familiar routine and environment. If you have the opportunity, take the time to say goodbye to workmates and thank that people who had a particularly meaningful impact on your career.

4.       Develop resilience and know your value.

While it can be a difficult verdict to accept, acknowledge that a redundancy is a positional, not personal decision and that it is not a reflection of your competency, achievements or dedication to the organisation. You are enough, with or without your job.

5.       Ask for help.

Acknowledging that you are struggling to adapt to life in retirement is not a sign of weakness. In fact it is a brave step forward. Seek professional help should you require it via your GP, a psychologist, counsellor or retirement expert.

The transition into retirement doesn’t always pan out as we expected it. An unexpected exit from the workforce can be bitterly disappointing, but don’t let this derail you from living a full and inspiring life in retirement. Focus on the elements that are within your control and keep moving forward.

References

Olesen, S., Butterworth, P., & Rodgers, B. (2012). Is poor mental health a risk factor for retirement? Findings from a longitudinal population survey, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 47, pp:735-744.

In planning for a holiday we always think “we need to go there” and “we should see that” but when Day One of our holiday arrives, we draw a blank…What were all of those things we were going to enjoy? In the busyness of life they’ve slipped our mind.


Don’t let this happen to your retirement. Download the My Retirement Planner and start capturing those ideas and inspiration so that you’re ready to step into retirement with gusto!