Combatting depression after retirement
Posted on 26 July 2016
When he hit retirement age, Paul Britton was looking forward to many years of well-earned rest. Instead, he fell into a deep depression. Here he shares how it happened – and how he worked his way out of it.
You often see these retirement advertisements, featuring happy people with full heads of hair and white, shiny teeth enjoying long walks on the beach. The truth is, retirement is not like that. In many cases you’ve been working for 40 years of your life, interacting with people and solving problems, and then all of a sudden you’re nobody. You lose a sense of identity, and you lose a sense of purpose.
When I retired, it started off incredibly well. I was busy, people were queuing up to give me consultancy work… And then suddenly, six months in, depression hit.
It was totally new to me. I’d never had depression before. My doctor couldn’t understand what was going on. He thought it was exhaustion. It took me a while to work out what had gone wrong, but I did some research and found that I wasn’t alone. I found a study that claims up to 75% of retirees hit full-blown depression.
Psychologists call it the Six-Month Syndrome (SMS), because it normally happens about six months after you retire. I call it the Something’s Missing Syndrome. What I was missing was social contact. I used to work for the National Parks, so a lot of my work and social interaction were combined.
How to beat SMS
You must have a purposeful activity – and I don’t mean playing golf (that’s recreation!). It’s about having something purposeful in your life. That could be starting a small business or doing volunteering work, or it could be serving as the secretary of your local bowling club. Volunteering is a good option, and it’s one of the things that has been found to help prevent dementia.
The other thing to remember is to stay physically and mentally healthy. In your last few years of working you’re so busy that you often don’t have time to look after yourself properly. Most financial consultants will tell you that your biggest cost in retirement is going to be your medical expenses. Of course, the best way to reduce those costs is to stay fit and healthy.
The perception is that retirement is one long 20-year holiday. But if you’re going on holiday, you have to have a budget and an itinerary. With the right amount of pre-retirement planning, and a clear understanding of what you can expect mentally, financially, physically and emotionally, you’ll be prepared when the inevitable post-retirement come-down comes around.
• Paul Britton is now happily retired and runs a consultancy for retirees called The Bridge.