Ever since the Social Security Act funded federal pension plans in 1935, most Americans have taken it for granted that their careers won’t last their whole lives. Today, the average American plans to retire at the age of 62. After that, if he or she has funded a pension plan adequately, a worker can dream of having days that are completely free. For most workers, retirement sounds like a break from the stresses of work and more time to travel or pursue hobbies. It’s something to look forward to.
However, retirement isn’t the endless day at the beach workers might imagine. According to the Institute of Economic Affairs, being retired raises one’s risk of depression by 40%. Why is that, and what can retirees do about it?
What’s the link between retirement and depression?
One in 5 retirees experience depression. But as any statistician will tell you, correlation is not causation. Some of the reasons why people retire are also causes of depression. Specifically, it’s worth bearing in mind that some retirees with depression are people who retired due to illness or bereavement.
However, it’s also worth considering that life changes are stressful. New retirees often find, sometimes to their surprise, that their job was a major source of meaning in their lives. It gave the day structure and gave them an excuse to socialize. A job also gives a person work to do that is significant and has importance. Retirement takes all that away.
How can retirees stay happy and healthy?
One good way to plan your retirement is to talk to retirees you know and ask about their routines. Keeping active is an important component of mental health as well as physical health, so retirement may be the perfect time to get a gym membership or take up a sport. Or check your local community center or library and see what programs they have for seniors. Meeting other people in your area who are going through the same thing is a good way to get support and to give yourself the social network you may be missing after leaving your job. In short, a wide range of daily activities is the best way to stave off depression. For more ideas, check out the American Psychological Association’s guide to aging.
Of course, if you’re experiencing severe depression, there’s no substitute for professional help. Even if you have a strong support network of friends and family, you may find that seeing a psychotherapist gives you a new perspective.