“For a lot of people, retirement means going from the peacock to the feather duster.”
In a single sentence, Wayne Bishop, the founder of Activetics, a company that advises employers on the ageing workforce, sums up why many older Australians, particularly men, find it tough to adjust to retirement.
You’ve had a job where you were the boss or a valued colleague then, suddenly, you’re just one of the crowd, without a title to underline your worth.
Add to that the facts that retirement throws long-time couples into far greater contact than they may have had in the busy years of working and child-rearing, it’s a struggle to keep in contact with friends and family who’re still busy working, income is usually considerably reduced, and ageing itself brings on niggling aches and pains for the first time – and you have a recipe for a real decline in mental health and wellbeing if you’re not prepared.
“Very few people go into retirement or go into the post-work period with any purpose or plan,” Bishop confirms. “As a result, they float and you’ll see incidents of loneliness and isolation and some of the mental health by-products of that.”
If this describes your feelings about post-retirement life but you’re reluctant to admit it to family or friends, you’re not alone. MensLineAustralia, a national mental health organisation, says that older men are particularly inclined to hide their low feelings or deny they’re depressed because they’ve grown up with the idea that manliness is about being the strong, silent type or that acknowledging their feelings is a sign of weakness.
“Men who hold on strongly to these traditional ideas about masculinity may be reluctant to seek help or even admit to feeling sad,” MensLineAustralia explains on its website. “They may focus on the physical symptoms rather than their emotions. They may also not recognise the signs of depression.”
If you are experiencing some of the common symptoms of depression – such as a persistently low mood, big changes in appetite or sleep patterns, a disinterest in activities or socialising and a feeling of fatigue or lack of energy – it’s important that you do seek help.
Queensland Health has a confidential mental-health telephone triage service, called 1300 MH CALL, that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services. It can be accessed any time by phoning 1300 642 255.
Meanwhile, Self Help Queensland can help you find a support group in your area by phoning (07) 3344 6919 or emailing [email protected]. The Mental Health Association of Queensland also has a list of support groups operating in the Brisbane and Gold Coast regions. There’s plenty of information available online, too, on the Queensland Government’s website about mental health issues and resources.
And if you’re worried that your peers won’t understand what you’re going through, that’s just not the case. A number of Starts at 60’s male readers say that it took them time to adjust to the changes retirement brings.
As one says, “Everyone’s different when retiring after 30, 40 or 50 years in the workforce”, while another points out that it can be hard to know beforehand how you’ll feel when you shed an ingrained work culture.
“There’s no expected timetable on this important transition into this chapter of our lives so be kind to yourself,” another reader advises. “It took me some 18-24 months on my transition after 50 years in the workforce”
One reader notes, though, that you shouldn’t let others try to hurry you to adapt to your new normal.
“Learn to live with just your agenda, then as we realise it is our life, our own life evolves,” he says. “It’s not about doing nothing, it’s about becoming yourself at your own pace and your own rules.
“People who try to direct you, by telling you you can or can’t do this or that, are defining their restrictions on your life. You still love them but if they love you, they’ll let you find you.”
Another reader points out that once you start looking at your retirement possibilities, you’ll find you have many more options from which to choose than you had at work.
“Retirement doesn’t mean you cease to function,” he says. “You just have more choices of what you want to do and when you do it. The golden rule of retirement is to keep active and involved in the world and the people outside your home.”
And don’t let your worries stop you from exploring those options, a reader advises. “Don’t be scared or talk yourself into devaluing what you have to offer,” he says. “Enjoy the journey and be determined to make it work. It will be, like everything else in life, what you make it.”
As one reader, who recalls experiencing some anxiety when he started retirement, now says: “Four years on, I don’t know how I had the time to go to work”.
Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.
Looking after your mental wellbeing should be a part of everyday life. Whether it’s taking time out of your day for walk or run, listening to your favourite tunes, putting on an outfit that makes you feel good, or catching up with a friend over a coffee, the small things can have the biggest impact on your mental wellbeing.
Read more on the Queensland Health website, including tips for improving your mental wellbeing.