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Protecting Your Mental Health In Retirement

Protecting your mental health in retirement is essential. You are going through a huge transition that takes time to adapt to, and if you neglect yourself in the midst of this, you could end up in a bad way.

Protecting Your Mental Health in Retirement — Knowing the Risks

Statistics show that mental health is something that people of all ages struggle with. However, specific problems can affect certain age groups more than others.

Some common mental health problems associated with older people are: loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

It goes without saying that these are not the only conditions affecting older people. However, as they are some of the most prevalent, we are going to focus on these aspects of mental health today.

1. Loneliness

A study into over-60s in first-world countries found that one-quarter of adults over the age of 60, and one-third of over-75s, confess to feeling lonely (1).

We often associate retirement with loneliness, as retired people tend to spend more time at home, and casual social engagement may be harder to find outside of the workplace.

Even for retired people who are very social, they may feel as though they are becoming less visible in society. This unfortunate phenomenon can be seen in many different areas.

For example, older refugees are often not a priority when it comes to humanitarian aid (2).

In mental health settings, older people frequently feel as though they are not being heard (3). This compounds the loneliness issue, as it prevents some older people from getting professional help for their mental health.

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2. Depression

Depression is often linked to other mental health struggles to some extent, whether it be that the individual has low self-esteem, or is facing high stress levels.

However, people in retirement can be diagnosed with late-life depression even if there is not a clear cause in sight. There are many potential factors for depression.

Adults with depression make up 7% of the population (4). As with any mental illness, depression exists on a scale, so some people in retirement will have mild depression, and others will suffer from severe symptoms such as suicidal ideation.

Though the latter is more dangerous, depression outcomes in patients with mild symptoms can also be tragic.

Late-life depression has the power to significantly lower the quality of life of people in retirement. There is evidence that depression makes up 5.7% of years of healthy life lost due to a disability, also known as YLD (5).

It is very common for depression to be undiagnosed among people in retirement. The true rates of depression are higher than statistics suggest.

Some people are in denial about their symptoms, while others cannot pinpoint exactly what they are going through, and they may put it down to ordinary sadness.

Even in depression screenings, healthcare professionals can misdiagnose elderly patients. We are too quick to assume symptoms are part of a standard, healthy ageing process, rather than accepting that poor mental health does not have to be the norm for people in retirement.

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3. Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions, so it is no surprise that it is common among people in retirement.

Much like depression, anxiety can arise seemingly out of nowhere, but it is often associated with a stressor.

A 2016 study into anxiety in late adulthood concluded that increased anxiety in older people was linked to age-related cognitive decline (6).

When we are discussing anxiety in retirement, we cannot avoid talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many studies demonstrating that the pandemic led to increased anxiety symptoms across the board, including among older people.

An Age UK study revealed that one third of over-60s in the UK are feeling more anxious after the pandemic (7).

This was not tied to one particular reason, but there was evidence for people with health conditions being more likely to suffer with anxiety after the pandemic (8).

This could be linked to health anxiety, reduced social interaction, and increased time spent indoors, among many other factors.

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Why Do You Recommend Protecting Your Mental Health in Retirement?

When we go through any major life change, it is extremely risky to proceed without considering how it could affect us mentally.

For example, it would be unwise to move to the other side of the world without preparing for a challenging adjustment period.

The same can be said for retirement. You may feel as though there is nothing to prepare for, especially if you’re transitioning from a high-stress job; perhaps you think that when this huge stressor is removed from your life, you will be happy.

This can sometimes be the case. If there is a direct source of mental health struggles that can be taken away, some people find that they are generally much happier day to day.

However, we do not recommend relying on this. Retirement does not guarantee happiness. It may end up being more stressful than you imagined, but even if it is low-stress, you should protect your mental health for other reasons.

Here are the main arguments for proactively protecting your mental health in retirement:

1. There will be fewer distractions

Have you ever looked forward to relaxing at the weekend, only to be flooded with anxiety when you finally stop to rest?

This happens because we haven’t been facing our problems, and the distractions of everyday life have helped us to either ignore them, or be in denial that they are even there.

While it is not healthy to use work to distract yourself from your emotions, some light distraction is often good for us.

If you’re transitioning to retirement and you don’t have much planned, please keep in mind that you could feel quite low as you have more time to think about your problems.

What’s more, being less busy during the day could lead to a lack of sleep. When we have trouble sleeping, we find it harder to manage stress.

Useful techniques that usually help us, such as progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing, may not be as effective.

Try to find a good balance by getting out of the house on a regular basis for some healthy distraction, but also sitting with your feelings and reminding yourself that negative emotions will pass much faster if you acknowledge them.

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2. Your support system may be smaller

Just like every point in this list, this is not true for everyone. However, many people find that they have a smaller support system in retirement.

Bereavement can be a cause of this, but for many people, it’s a simple case of not being around people as much.

If you had lots of friends at work, it can be difficult to adjust to not having them around as often, especially if you lose contact completely.

Some people feel as though they will have all the time in the world for friendships when they retire, but you must remember that many people are still working, and others are still very busy in retirement.

While you can resolve this by reaching out to friends, making new friends, and staying busy, you should protect your emotional health by preparing for the possibility that people will not always be available to make plans.

This is when individual plans come in – why not schedule in independent cinema outings, Sudoku mornings, or hikes?

If you’re struggling with severe loneliness, there are plenty of charities in the UK that can help.

Age UK offers brilliant befriending services, while Samaritans recruit listening volunteers to support you through difficult times. For bereavement, Cruse Bereavement Support’s helpline is highly recommended.

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3. Your mental health affects your physical health

Protecting your mental health in retirement is important for your psychological wellbeing alone. However, in order to make a change, some people need to hear that poor mental health is tied to poor physical health.

It’s no secret that we become more physically vulnerable as we age, and therefore we are at risk of developing a physical health condition. If you neglect your mental health as you go into retirement, there is a much higher risk that you will end up suffering physically.

This is not merely something therapists say to coax older people into therapy; it is strongly backed up by a variety of statistics.

To give an example, late-life depression has been linked to a range of chronic diseases that commonly affect older people, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and asthma (9).

While we are on this subject, it’s important to note that taking care of your physical health also leads to improved mental health outcomes.

Nutrition is the best predictor of health status, which means eating a balanced diet is great for healthy ageing of the body and mind. Other predictors of health status include sleep quality, exercise and social engagement.

To find out more about maintaining a healthy diet, head to the British Nutrition Foundation for professional guidance.

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4. Mental health challenges can be overlooked in older people

It is extremely unfortunate that many older people have suffered in silence with a mental health disorder.

In a perfect world, education surrounding elderly mental health would be widespread, older people would be treated equally in clinical settings, and experts would never fail to spot mental health symptoms in a patient being treated for a physical condition.

However, we don’t live in a perfect world, which is why it is essential that you take charge of your mental health in retirement.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid mental health settings –we recommend the complete opposite – but that you should advocate for yourself by keeping track of your mental health and alerting professionals to any issues.

It is extremely important that you pay attention to new habits in retirement, as there is often more room for unhealthy coping mechanisms when you aren’t following a strict routine.

Examples of unhealthy habits, which can turn into addictions, include problem gambling, alcohol misuse, self-medicating with illegal drugs, and significant weight loss or weight gain.

It’s easier to take care of our mental health when we are in a supportive environment. We recommend that people in retirement find friends who are open about mental health.

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5. Mental disorders can lie to you

Most people with a mental health disorder will identify with this statement. Mood disorders tell us there is no hope, anxiety disorders convince us that the world is too scary, and these same lies crop up in the symptoms of most chronic conditions of the mind.

By protecting your mental health in retirement, you are reducing the likelihood that you will suffer from these symptoms.

Even if you already suffer from a psychological condition, it would be more manageable if you took action by going to your GP for therapy and/or medication.

Anti-depressant medication is very common in the UK, so you are not in the minority if you need this to control your symptoms.

When people resist this, they may find themselves stuck in a cycle of negative thinking. For example, if you truly believe ‘I can’t make friends’, you will avoid connecting with people, and your brain will see this as evidence that you are unable to do it.

You can break this cycle by educating yourself on your condition, and speaking to a mental health specialist such as a qualified therapist.

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Protecting Your Mental Health in Retirement — Our Top Tips

As you read these tips, keep in mind that they may not all work for you personally. It’s important to trial different methods for protecting your mental health in retirement, as opposed to giving up when something is ineffective.

If you have never paid much attention to your mental health, you may feel as though this is an added pressure to deal with. It may help to compare taking care of yourself mentally with taking care of yourself physically.

Maintaining physical health is not always easy – it requires self-control, resilience, and motivation. However, when you prioritise this, you are avoiding being in poor health, which is worth the effort.

When you apply this to mental health, you can see that it may be tiring to stay in check with your emotions, but it is a preventative measure to lower the risk of serious mental health issues.

1. Go to therapy

This is likely to be the most overwhelming suggestion for people who have never been to therapy.

There is no need to feel intimidated by therapy; by its very nature, it is just as suitable for people who have never dwelled on emotions as it is for people who have been journaling and meditating since childhood.

You don’t need to become an expert in your own emotional health to benefit from therapy. All you need to do is turn up ready to have a conversation. Even then, you will not be pushed to unveil things that you aren’t ready to talk about.

Major life changes are easier to navigate when you have the space to vent about your problems, come up with helpful solutions, and hear the opinion of an unbiased professional.

You will learn useful techniques which may include emotional regulation, conflict resolution, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and meditation.

As no topics are off-bounds in therapy, it is a great opportunity to dig deep and analyse issues that you feel uncomfortable discussing with loved ones.

The more you do this, the less you will be repressing your emotions, which is associated with poor mental health outcomes.

There are also therapies that use physical techniques for healing, such as yoga, tai chi and exercise therapy. Patients are able to heal from trauma while also reducing their risk of a stroke, heart attack, Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses associated with old age.

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2. Be open with your loved ones

We know that some people don’t want to be open about their feelings, but often people will reciprocate your willingness to be vulnerable. This doesn’t mean that you have to divulge secrets to people who you don’t trust.

Keep boundaries in place to protect yourself, but open up when you feel comfortable.

If you trust that a friend or family member will handle your feelings with care, opening up to them can be a breath of fresh air.

Sharing problems is beneficial for a range of reasons, but most people find that it makes the issue seem less earth-shattering.

It’s often beneficial to talk to someone who relates to your problem, as they can validate you and help you to understand you aren’t alone.

If you’re struggling with the adjustment to retirement, we recommend speaking to your friends who are in the same position. It won’t be the same as discussions in clinical settings, but it will be valuable in its own way.

3. Make plans

As simple as this tip may be, we know that it isn’t always easy. After spending most of your life working, perhaps the last thing you want to do is fill up your schedule.

However, retirement can feel like a slog. By making plans, you can break up your time, and feel content that you’re making the most of your life after work.

Even if you spend most of your time at home, pencilling in a plan on a regular basis can prevent you from feeling lonely and isolated.

We advise making different types of plans, so that all your needs are covered. Not all of your plans need to be elaborate, or even social.

Seeing loved ones regularly and going to fun activities is highly recommended, but so is going for a coffee on your own every so often, or calling a family member every day.

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4. Set challenges for yourself

If you were working full-time before you retired, you probably faced many different challenges on a regular basis. Many people opt to avoid challenges where they can, but we would advise you to seek out healthy challenges.

Some examples of this are: cooking new recipes, going on hikes, starting a new hobby, practising mindfulness, exercising every day, and discovering new favourite things in life.

These challenges can boost self-esteem, as you are constantly reminded that you are capable of change and improvement. This can help you as you face the difficult parts of retirement, as you will have developed resilience to deal with trials.

What’s more, challenges will keep you busy, which can increase energy and motivation, and reduce negative symptoms of mental health conditions.

5. Help others

We all know that helping others brings a sense of joy, so prioritising this in retirement is excellent for your mental health.

It’s a good idea to assess how much scope you have for helping others before jumping into it. Think about how much free time you have, and make sure to leave plenty of time for your own interests.

Once you know how much time you can dedicate, you could get in touch with your local council and enquire about volunteering opportunities.

If you would rather keep it less formal to begin with, you could ask your loved ones if there is anything you could do to support them, e.g., taking care of grandchildren.

Please don’t feel as though you are obligated to help your family members simply because you’re no longer working.

Ultimately, this is your time to prioritise yourself, so only offer regular help if it’s something that you feel drawn to.

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How to Help a Loved One Who is Struggling in Retirement

It isn’t easy to know how to support a loved one through their retirement, especially if you can’t relate to their situation.

For this reason, it’s best to remind the person that you may not have the best advice, and to suggest resources such as therapy, or even another friend or family member who is also retired.

That being said, people often benefit from your help even if you don’t have professional guidance to offer. They may simply want to vent to you, ask for your personal opinion on something, or be reminded that you care for them.

The key to helping a loved one through a challenging retirement is to find out what they need from you. They may want to see you more often, spend more quality time with you, or get practical help with something.

You could remind your loved one of the suggestions in our list, in case there is a simple change they could make that would improve their retired life.

For example, ask them if there are any hobbies they would like to try, and find out whether they have people in their life who are in a similar situation.

This advice is aimed at people whose friends or family members are suffering mildly or moderately.

However, we understand that some people are facing life-threatening problems in retirement. Perhaps your loved one is in alcoholism end-of-life care, or has made attempts to commit suicide.

These situations call for drastic measures. If your loved one is not already receiving medical care, please encourage them to go to their GP, where they can be referred for treatment based on the urgency.

The GP can also recommend mental health resources in the area, such as NHS therapy, private therapy and mental health foundations.

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How Can Equity Release Warehouse Help?

As we have briefly mentioned, saving money is one way of protecting your mental health in retirement. It can take away financial stress, which means you can spend money on things you enjoy without it being a huge sacrifice.

Putting money into a pension is a great way to do this, as you will benefit from government tax relief. If you’re unsure how much money to put away for retirement, Citizen’s Advice have some great tips.

Yet, if you’re already nearing retirement, the chances are that you can’t suddenly access a huge amount of money to make up for any savings you haven’t accrued. This is the case for most people, but it is not the case for equity release consumers.

By unlocking money from your property, you could live off a large sum of tax-free cash for the rest of your retirement. The amount of cash released is correlated with the value of your home, your age, and several other factors.

An equity release loan cannot save you from mental health struggles, but it could provide access to resources that would improve your mental wellness. For example, you may be able to afford high-quality private therapy, holidays with loved ones, or a new car for travelling around the country.

Even if the loan simply covers the cost of monthly bills, you could have a happier retirement due to reduced financial anxiety.

Releasing money from your property does come with risks, so do not jump into the equity release scheme blindly.

Contact us on 0330 058 1579 to discover whether equity release before retirement is a sensible decision for you.

FAQs About Protecting Your Mental Health in Retirement

Below, we provide answers to commonly asked questions about protecting your mental health in retirement:

1. Will retiring be bad for my mental health?

Retirement isn’t always bad for your mental health. The reason we are exploring this risk today is that we want to show that retirement stress can be just as valid and damaging as workplace stress.

However, this doesn’t mean that everyone’s mental health will deteriorate when they stop working.

Many people find that retirement turns them into the best version of themselves. They have the power to choose what to do with their time, which means they can hone in on their passions, and stay away from things that wear them down.

You can’t predict how your retirement will go, just like you can’t predict your career journey. As with any stage of life, there will be good and bad parts of retirement.

That being said, you can put yourself in the best possible position to enjoy retirement. The obvious ways to do this are to save as much as possible, set goals and make plans to achieve them, find a great therapist, and build a support network.

2. Can I guarantee positive clinical outcomes by looking after my mental health?

It can be dangerous to associate mental health care with any sort of guaranteed outcome.

Depressive disorders, mood disorders and other conditions studied by mental health specialists are complex. If a patient is suffering from a chronic condition, it is not their fault.

The reason we advise protecting your mental health is that it lowers your risk of being in poor health, both physically and mentally.

However, this does not mean that you can definitely avoid mental illness, or that people who suffer with their emotional health have not done enough to protect themselves.

Our physical health analogy can be applied here. We know that the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes is reduced if we eat well and exercise often. However, people who prioritise healthy ageing can still suffer from these conditions.

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3. Is medical retirement one of the factors for depression?

Medical retirement is when someone is unwell or disabled, and takes an early retirement. As a result, they are able to access the funds held by their pension provider before the age of 55.

Medical retirement is linked to depressive symptoms (10). However, depression can also be a cause of ill-health retirement, which skews study results.

If you are medically retired, it is even more important that you take care of your mental health. You will face unique challenges in this time, and being in touch with your emotions will help you to battle this.

That being said, it is certainly possible for someone to thrive in medical retirement. One example of this is Annette Dancer, who was forced to retire early after having a stroke at the age of 61.

She went on to develop an online speech therapy programme that she now presents at conferences. This heart-warming story, published by the British Heart Foundation, reminds us that we can always find a purpose in retirement.


[1] Prevalence of loneliness amongst older people in high-income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis

[2] “Older people tend to be invisible”: a qualitative study exploring the needs and inclusion of older Syrian refugees in the context of compounding crises in host country, Lebanon

[3] Older people are often invisible in mental health settings. Here are some tips to get care

[4] Mental health of older adults

[5] Ibid.

[6] Anxiety in late adulthood: Associations with gender, education, and physical and cognitive functioning

[7] Worrying rise in anxiety and loss of motivation among older people

[8] Ibid.

[9] How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health

[10] Involuntary Retirement and Depression Among Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies

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