Mental Health Resources for People About to Start Retirement
Retirement is a major life change. It can bring on a wide range of emotions, from feelings of excitement and freedom to fears and anxiety about finances and filling your time once you no longer have the daily routine of a job. This is especially true for people whose identity was closely tied to their career. Many people discover that retirement is not an event but rather a much longer transition that has many phases.
Even if they are financially prepared to stop working, many people are simply not psychologically ready to retire.
“I struggled with it. It wasn’t what I expected,” Nancy Schlossberg told MarketWatch in an article about the psychological burden of retirement. Today, she is an expert on transitions and the author of several books about retirement and aging.
Schlossberg and other experts advise people considering retirement to start planning several years before their target date. Then expect a year or so of adjustment after the novelty wears off. Flexibility and resilience are key.
“This is an entirely new experience,” says gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, coauthor of the 1989 best seller Age Wave and founder of a consulting firm that bears the same name. “You’ve been in patterns for decades. How is a person to know what will satisfy them?”
Dychtwald has identified five stages of retirement.
Five Stages of Retirement
6-15 years before retirement
Workers grow enthusiastic as retirement gets closer.
5 years before retirement
Workers are excited and hopeful until worry and doubt set in.
Year 1 of retirement
Retirees are relieved to be done with work stress and enjoy their freedom.
Some retirees feel depressed and bored, while others reinvent themselves.
15+ years after retirement
Retirees are relatively content and less worried, but sad as they face end-of-life issues.
Surveys conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Edward Jones and Age Wave were the basis for the recent report The Four Pillars of the New Retirement: What a Difference a Year Makes (PDF, 3.3 MB). According to the report, most retirees say all four interdependent pillars—health, family, purpose and finances—are essential to optimal well-being in retirement.
While finances typically get the most attention when it comes to retirement, “being financially secure” was actually rated least important (by 59% of survey respondents) compared to the other three pillars. “Having good physical/mental health” was rated most important, with 85% of survey respondents putting that at the top of their list.
Experts recommend using the following coping strategies for dealing with the challenges retirement presents in order to facilitate the transition to this next part of life.
How to Deal With the Challenges of Retirement
Stay active. Playing sports, working part-time or taking a class are all ways to keep the mind and body active.
Increase meaningful socialization. Whether you’re babysitting your grandkids or making new friends at the senior center, make time to participate in activities with other people.
Find a sense of purpose. If your purpose was derived from your career, you may feel adrift after retirement. Volunteer work or focusing on a particular cause that’s important to you can offer new ways to provide meaning in your life.
Pursue your passions. If you’ve always wanted to travel, learn a different language, teach yourself how to play the guitar or take up painting, now you have the time and freedom to do so.
Stick to a schedule. Without the structure of a full-time job, many people struggle with how to fill their days. Set up a schedule, creating set times when you will exercise, volunteer or do work around the house.
Resources for New or Soon-to-Be Retirees
Online Counseling Programs collected the following resources for retirees as they navigate the mental health challenges of this new phase of life.
Articles and Websites
Age Wave: Billed as “the nation’s foremost thought leader on issues relating to an aging population,” Age Wave offers research and consulting, educational programs and publications related to expectations, attitudes, hopes and fears regarding retirement.
RetirementWisdom: This website offers coaching, a newsletter, blog, podcast and other resources to help you prepare for the transition to retirement and create the second act you want.
Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies: This nonprofit publishes a wide range of research on various topics, including an annual survey and reports on women and retirement and planning for travel in retirement.
Encore.org: With a focus on intergenerational connection, this nonprofit offers opportunities and ideas to bridge divides, bring joy to the second half of life and help all ages thrive.
You’re Probably Not Ready to Retire — Psychologically, MarketWatch: Research shows that adjusting to retirement is difficult for people whose identity is tied to their job. They report more boredom, anxiety and feelings of uselessness.
How to Deal With Depression After Retirement, Verywell Mind: Graphic and list of tips to make the transition to retirement smoother, and what to do if your depression is more serious.
Retirement Blues: Taking It Too Easy Can Be Hard on You, Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard experts say that for optimal well-being in retirement, you need to stay engaged with your own interests and with other people. Doing either too little or too much can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, appetite loss, memory impairment and insomnia.
The One Retirement Risk You’re Probably Not Preparing For? Depression, USA Today: Statistics on mental health in older people, top sources of stress and how a “phased” retirement may help.
6 Tips to Combat Post-Retirement Depression, Investopedia: Studies show that staying in shape and giving back through volunteer work positively impact mental well-being.
Depression After Retirement: Symptoms, Treatments and How to Cope Choosing Therapy: How to find mental health support, including online options, group therapy or a therapist or counselor who has expertise working with older adults and retirees.
How Family Members Can Help
10 Tips to Help Your Marriage Survive Retirement, U.S. News & World Report: Tips for adjusting to a spouse’s retirement, such as planning how you’ll spend your time, pursuing individual interests and negotiating household chores.
Advice for Couples Who Stagger Retirement, AARP: When one spouse retires before the other, it can cause stress in a relationship. Here are some common issues many couples encounter.
Helping a Loved One Cope with a Mental Illness, American Psychiatric Association: How to spot the warning signs, how to approach the issue and how to find support for the person and yourself.
Depression and Suicide in Older Adults, American Psychological Association: Articles, books and resources for addressing depression, a common mental health issue in the elderly.
Podcasts and Videos
The RetirementWisdom Podcast: Retirement planning often focuses on only the financial piece. This podcast covers the other aspects of preparing for life after full-time work through interviews with experts.
The Retire With Purpose Podcast: Designed to help retirees and pre-retirees improve their financial confidence, this podcast features interviews with experts in finance and retirement, and also covers topics such as mending relationships and finding a retirement coach.
The Psychology of Aging Podcast: Hosted by clinical geropsychologist Regina Koepp, experts discuss topics surrounding mental health and aging, dementia, caregiving and end of life. Recent episodes featured care for LGTBQ seniors and preventing elder financial abuse.
7 Must-Listen Retirement Podcasts That Aren’t About Money, Kiplinger: From health to news to making friends, these wide-ranging podcasts may be of interest to retirees.
Video: How to Help with Retirement Depression: Dr. Joseph Sivak, director of behavioral health at The Villages Health, a 55+ community in Florida, explains the phenomenon of retirement depression and offers some tips for coping with it.
TEDxDrogheda: Retirement: From Foreboding to Fulfillment: A former software developer for IBM Ireland discusses his journey through the stages of grief following retirement and how he redefined himself.
West End Seniors’ Network: A 5-Minute Video on Retirement and Loss of Identity: A woman discusses how cultivating creative pursuits helped her reinvent herself after a 35-year career.
Your Next Chapter: A Woman’s Guide to Successful Retirement, by Alexandra Armstrong, CFP, and Mary R. Donahue, Ph.D.: This book, written by a financial planner and a psychologist, helps women navigate this transition in their lives, emotionally and financially.
The Best Is Yet To Be: Discovering the Secret to a Creative, Happy Retirement, by Mike Bellah, Ph.D.: When college professor Mike Bellah retired early, he expected his golden years to be happy and carefree. But within weeks fears of lost identity and limited funds left him panicked and depressed. In this book, the author combines research and personal narrative to explain how he got his hope back.
Retirement Heaven or Hell: 9 Principles for Designing Your Ideal Post-Career Lifestyle, by Mike Drak, Susan Williams and Rob Morrison, CFP: Sudden, “full-stop” retirement can be a shock, found the author. This book outlines nine key principles to coach you on how to transition successfully to retirement and eliminate the stress that comes with this huge life change.
Winning at Retirement: A Guide to Health, Wealth & Purpose in the Best Years of Your Life, by Patrick Foley and Kristin Hillsley: This book aims to be a comprehensive guide to maintaining your health, managing your money and finding a greater purpose in retirement. The authors believe that far too many people plan only for the financial aspects without recognizing the importance of seeking a meaningful identity.
Keys to a Successful Retirement: Staying Happy, Active, and Productive in Your Retired Years, by Fritz Gilbert: An in-depth guide to retired living, covering topics including dealing with feelings of aimlessness, grief and depression that may surface and how to manage your mental health.
Retirement Your Way: The No Stress Roadmap for Designing Your Next Chapter and Loving Your Future, by Gail M. McDonald and Marilyn L. Bushey: A seven-step roadmap to help you discover and forge the right retirement path for you. Includes practical guidance, research and inspiring personal stories.
What Color Is Your Parachute? for Retirement: Planning a Prosperous, Healthy, and Happy Future, by John E. Nelson and Richard N. Bolles: From the authors of best-selling career book What Color Is Your Parachute?, this guide provides practical tools including an exercise on values and how they inform your retirement, and the retirement well-being Pprofile, a resource for organizing the vast amount of information on finances and mental and physical health.
Purposeful Retirement: How to Bring Happiness and Meaning to Your Retirement, by Hyrum W. Smith: The former chairman and CEO of FranklinCovey and a renowned expert on time management challenges the conventional views of retirement and offers practical ideas on how to shift your mindset, embrace the transition and live life fully in retirement.
A Couple’s Guide to Happy Retirement and Aging: 15 Keys to Long-Lasting Vitality and Connection, by Sara Yogev: Written by a psychologist specializing in work and family issues, this book summarizes the latest research findings and draws from stories of real couples. This book is intended to help partners prepare emotionally for the major life changes during retirement, nurture their relationship and find strategies to deal with differences around money, time together versus apart, housework and family.
How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won’t Get from Your Financial Advisor, by Ernie J. Zelinski: Inspirational advice on achieving an active and satisfying retirement that includes interesting leisure activities, creative pursuits, physical and mental well-being and solid social support.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-622-4357).
The toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to anyone in crisis. All calls are confidential.
Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line is the only accredited crisis line in the country for people 60 years and older and adults living with disabilities. The 24-hour toll-free Friendship Line (800-971-0016) is a crisis intervention hotline and a warmline for non-emergency emotional support calls.
AARP’s Friendly Voice service connects trained volunteers with callers who are isolated or experiencing challenges and want to talk. Call 1-888-281-0145 and leave your information and a volunteer will call you back.
The following resources are for informational purposes only; individuals should consult with a clinician before making decisions about mental health.