Forced Retirement and Increased Risk for Depression

Many middle-aged and senior Americans grew up with expectations about when and how they would retire: spend decades working for a single company…save money…perhaps earn a pension…retire at 65. However, some are finding that reality is far different than what they’d planned. Forced retirement, which affects many Americans, generates numerous negative emotions with the potential to trigger a serious bout of depression.

Surveys have shown that almost one out of four working adults say they’ll retire before the age of 65. However, as many as 68% actually end up retiring before they reach that age [1]. Some who retire early do so by choice. However, others are forced to leave the workplace earlier than planned. For example, the financial crisis of recent years caused companies to downsize, pushing some workers into early retirement. Others are forced out of their jobs by discrimination, as some employers have chosen to reduce salaries and healthcare costs by firing older workers and hiring younger ones. Injuries and chronic illnesses are additional reasons people leave the workforce before they’re ready.

Studies have shown that retirement boosts the chance of developing depression by as much as 40% [2]. In addition, researchers say that depression symptoms are significantly associated with retirement in middle-aged workers [3]. Studies also suggest that newly retired women are more likely to report symptoms of depression than those who’ve been retired for some time and women who haven’t yet retired [4].

Contributing Factors

The studies above offer evidence that retirement itself is linked to depression, but forced retirement brings its own set of worries and frustrations, raising the risk of experiencing symptoms.  The connection may be due to one or more of the following contributing factors:

Loss of a Sense of Purpose: After spending decades in the workforce, early retirement causes some people to feel as though their life no longer has real meaning. If you were the breadwinner of the family, it can be particularly hard to watch someone else assume that role, leaving you feeling worthless and as if you don’t make a difference or contribution anymore.

Relationship Problems: Retirement can bring conflict and strife to any relationship. After all, a couple may find themselves together 24 hours a day for the first time ever in their married lives. The busyness of a career kept the focus off of what may have already been a troubled marriage. Role reversals in retirement cause stress as well. A still-working wife may expect a newly retired husband to take on the daily chores that had traditionally belonged to her. While relationship problems are common in retirement, a forced retirement brings an added element of stress. For example, the retired spouse could resent that his or her partner is still employed. Likewise, a working spouse possibly resents what they see as the other’s newfound freedom.

Forced Retirement and Increased Risk for Depression Financial Worries: One of the most pressing problems for many people forced to retire is their financial situation. If you’ve retired earlier than expected, it has the potential to affect retirement accounts. Some forced retirees need to dip into savings years before they’d expected to. These worries and anxieties cause significant stress that affects emotional well-being.

Housing Instability: Along with financial problems, housing instability triggers negative emotions that sometimes lead to depression. You could find yourself forced to downsize to accommodate a smaller income.  In some situations, an early retiree is forced to move in with family members, perhaps even an adult child, to make ends meet.

Inability to Find New Work: It can be especially hard to be forced into retirement because you’ve been unable to find a new job. Older Americans who’ve lost their jobs are among the country’s long-term unemployed. In fact, the rate of unemployed people aged 55 and older doubled during the most recent recession. Older Hispanic and African American workers, in particular, have higher unemployment rates than their white colleagues [5]. If you’ve had an unsuccessful extended job search that ended in forced retirement, you’ve experienced emotions like helplessness and frustration, which generate depression.

Feelings of Isolation: One aspect of forced retirement that contributes to depression is the sense of isolation. Work-related social ties often break when a person retires; however, those ties are sometimes less likely to continue after a forced retirement. For instance, it’s possible former colleagues feel uncomfortable about the situation, and avoid social contact because they’re not sure what to say.

How to Cope with Forced Retirement

If you’ve been forced to retire, one of the best things you can do to thwart depression is to take a proactive stance.  Following are several things you can do to feel more empowered and in control of your situation, rather than a victim of it:

  • Consult a financial expert. Money is a primary source of anxiety for many people forced into retirement. Work with a professional financial planner or advisor to lay out a plan to effectively manage and protect the money and assets you currently have. He or she will guide you through the adjustments needed to rebuild or maintain financial stability.
  • Start a job search. You’ve been forced into retirement, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay retired. While it sometimes takes longer for older candidates to find work, getting a new job will reinvigorate you and help provide a sense of purpose. Don’t rule out part-time work either. A part-time job will help you stay active and bring in income. Even a small salary will contribute to a better financial situation. If you’ve been out of the job market for some time, consider visiting a local career center to learn more about the current market and how to increase your chances of being hired.
  • Fill your time productively. Avoid sitting around the house watching TV or spending all day on the Internet. Instead, find healthy, productive ways to occupy your time. For example, you could volunteer for a cause that’s important to you. Other ways to fill your time include socializing with friends or continuing your education. Hobbies are a good choice too, so make time to do something you’ve always wanted to do, whether it’s learning how to oil paint or researching your family’s ancestry.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical wellness is essential for your emotional health as well. Regular workouts reduce the risk of chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes. Aerobic types of exercise, such as brisk walking or swimming laps trigger the release of endorphins.  Endorphins are brain chemicals that enhance mood and increase your overall sense of wellbeing.
  • Seek treatment, if needed. Feeling depressed is not a sign of weakness. In fact, depression is a mental health condition that requires treatment, just like a broken arm or a heart condition. If symptoms persist, contact a mental health professional. Depression is treatable, usually with a combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, and, when needed, antidepressants. These medications work by correcting brain imbalances that lead to depressed moods.

Depression is a treatable disorder. If you’ve been forced to retire and are struggling with symptoms of depression, seek professional help.  A skilled therapist can help you start making the positive changes that will lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.



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