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Depression - Mental Health Week

Mental Health Matters: How to Cope with Depression after Retirement

May 10, 2019

The 68th annual Mental Health Week takes place this May, organized by the Canadian Mental Health Association. Its aim is to raise awareness and start conversations about mental health issues.

Here we take a look at depression, one of mental health’s most serious conditions, and how it affects retirees.

Why post-retirement depression affects so many Canadians

As many as 10% of Canadians who live in the community suffer from depression after retirement. That figure leaps as high as 40% when it comes to retirees who live in an institution, such as a nursing home.

There are many reasons why depression after retirement is so prevalent. When we stop working, many of us feel a loss of purpose or even identity.

We suddenly have a lot of extra time on our hands and many people struggle to fill that time meaningfully. Social lives that revolve around work are suddenly taken away from us and we can become more isolated.

As we get older, physical health issues can affect our mental wellbeing and the drugs used to treat us can have side effects that include depression. Living with chronic pain or losing independence due to mobility issues can also lead to retirement depression.

Another unfortunate reality is that retirees start to increasingly lose their friends and loved ones the older they get and can become isolated, it’s understandable that depression can sneak up on them. However, you don’t have to stoically live with depression after retirement, there is help available.

Why it’s so important to get treated for retirement depression

Many people are unaware that highly effective medication and therapy are available for depression – over 80% of people recover completely after treatment.

However, 90% of depressed retirees either won’t seek or don’t receive any help. Some retirees had an upbringing where they didn’t talk about their emotions or didn’t complain when feeling sad, so they struggle to discuss their mental health issues. Others are unaware that depression is an illness and that treatment can help bring a full recovery.

For these Canadians, the symptoms of depression after retirement can be misdiagnosed as being caused by another medical condition and so they don’t receive the necessary treatment.

When depression is left untreated, it can lead to many unpleasant consequences. Depression after retirement can last considerably longer and this in turn could lead to unnecessary institutionalization.

Untreated depression can lead to physical ill-health. It can worsen existing health conditions and also bring on heart disease, infections and immune-related diseases. 

Risk of suicide among depressed retirees is high, especially among men.

It is therefore hugely important to speak up about how you feel and to recognize the signs of depression.

Depression symptoms to watch out for – in yourself and your loved ones

Depression doesn’t just affect our emotional state; it also impacts the way we think and act. Below are some typical retirement depression symptoms:

How we feel  How we think
Extreme sadness Negative thoughts about life
Irritability Lack of concentration and/or reduced memory
Anxiety Confused thoughts
Impatience A sense of impending disaster
Anger Increasingly indecisive
Tension How we act
Restlessness No interest in things that were once enjoyable
Low self-esteem Trouble sleeping or feeling fully rested
Guilt Changes in appetite or weight
Helplessness Rejecting social interactions
Lack of energy Increased use of substances
Aches, pains, cramps No interest in work, relationships or life in general
Mood swings Decreased physical activity
Panic attacks Neglecting to pay bills, clean, wash or eat well
Emptiness

Ways to avoid retirement depression

There are a number of ways that you can have a better chance of maintaining good mental health. All of these recommendations have been proven to help when coping with retirement depression or avoiding it, while bringing you greater enjoyment in life:

  • Set up a post-retirement routine to fill your time meaningfully
  • Make an effort to stay social – visit your kids and babysit your grandchildren or friend’s grandchildren
  • Make time to see friends
  • Join a choir, a book club or a community centre social club
  • Stay active by going to the gym regularly or taking up a sport
  • Find a new sense of purpose: volunteer or find work that is close to your heart
  • Follow your dreams: now is the time to pursue your interests like learning a new language or a musical instrument, traveling more, performing, or writing a book
  • Take up mindfulness meditation, Tai Chi or yoga
  • Eat well: a lack of essential vitamins and minerals can bring on depression
  • Getting a pet can help you cope with stress and reduce blood pressure

How to seek help

For many people suffering from retirement depression symptoms, taking the necessary steps to improve their mental health can be too daunting without professional help.

Recovery often begins with a mixture of medication and psychological treatment. Antidepressant medication can help give depressed people the boost they need to have the mental energy to tackle their illness. Some drugs have side effects, however, so be aware of any changes in your mood and tell your doctor about them.

There are several types of psychological treatments that can help in recovering from depression after retirement:

  • Cognitive-behaviour therapy coaches people to reject negative thinking
  • Interpersonal therapy enables people to better manage their personal relationships, particularly grief, conflicts and life changes
  • Problem-solving therapy teaches skills that allow you to cope with difficult situations, like an ongoing illness or moving into a nursing home

The first steps to recovery

If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression after retirement, visit your doctor. They will take tests to establish if you have depression or if an underlying health condition or medication are causing the problems. They may then refer you to a mental health professional, after which medication and psychological treatment may also be recommended.

Remember, 80% of people with retirement depression recover after receiving treatment. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you will start to feel better and be able to get on with your life.

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