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The Secret Sadness Of Retired Men

Steve Pomeranz, Retired, Robin Williams

With the unfortunate passing of Robin Williams and all that has been written about his struggle with depression, I began to think about my own practice and the men I speak with who seem to experience their own journey of sadness and depression as they enter into retirement.

I decided to highlight elderly male depression in my commentary, partly as a small tribute to Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and others who cut their lives short.

In particular, I’m focusing on men today because, being a man and being an observer over many years of financial advising, it doesn’t take a psychologist or an expert in any of the social sciences to know that we men go through our own set of mental challenges unique to our gender and which are fundamentally different from women.

For example, men who are already retired or getting ready to retire can go from working lives and good health to retirement and possibly poor health. They can experience sadness and depression that typically will go untreated and unaddressed. This is so because, in large part, we men are less communicative about our problems than women. Let’s face it, guys, we just don’t wanna talk about it! Right?

Maybe we see dependency and life off-the-treadmill as a weakness or something to be ashamed of.   Many of us have a hard time coping with this major life change.

According to psychotherapist Terrence Real, there is a growing body of research which shows that retirement significantly increases the risk of clinical depression and even suicide among men. Surveys show there are about 11 million depressed men in America at any given time—that’s about 9% of the adult male population. The real number is probably higher because men just don’t talk about these sorts of issues and don’t voluntarily tell those who care about them that they are sad, depressed, or need help. Often we’re simply unaware that we are clinically depressed and attribute our sadness to old age, lethargy, illness, or some other factor.

as we approach retirement, our traditional “masculine role” fades and make us feel a sense of loss which gets deeper if we can’t successfully transfer our “sense of identity and self-worth” to new interests.

Many of us typically attach our “sense of identity and self-worth” to the professional work we do, the money we bring home, and the support we give to our families. But as we approach retirement, our traditional masculine role fades and makes us feel a sense of loss which gets deeper if we can’t successfully transfer our “sense of identity and self-worth” to new interests. This sense of loss is the leading cause of depression in older retired males.

And that’s not all, folks. Other losses such as the death of a spouse or close friend, loss of workplace friendships, and the sense of professional belonging can add to these feelings. Also, we can see the prospect of mental or physical decline as something to worry about, especially, because, typically, we often lack support networks that can help rehabilitate our sense of self-worth.

The good news is that studies show a 90% success rate for people who seek help. So it is important not to go into this alone and shut yourself off. You need to gently open up about your sadness and find the right resources which are plentiful and there is medication which can help considerably if prescribed by an experienced professional.

There is a lot of help out there.

So what are some of the signs you should look for? First, know that this sadness is fairly common, not something to be ashamed of.

Some of the classic signs of depression are feeling blue, losing one’s sense of pleasure and joy in life, changes in sleeping or eating habits and fatigue, increased drinking, a marked increase in irritability and aggression, and a significant withdrawal from other people and life.

Spotting depression is not easy because a number of other things can mimic depression such as the symptoms related to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or hormonal changes as men age.

I urge my senior listeners to do what you are conditioned to do—take charge again. But, this time, take charge of yourself, speak to your physician, your financial advisor, family, and friends. Reach out, get involved in volunteering and take medication, if your doctor so advises. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’ll feel so much better for stepping in and taking control. Positive steps on your part will also directly benefit your financial health. Step up, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Finally, I want to urge my fellow financial advisors and also family and friends of retirees to get involved. Become sympathetic listeners, tread gently, and look for signs of depression in your client or loved one, and bring in a professional therapist or counselor to help.

Advisors and friends and family can also help in other ways such as by sharing articles and information about the symptoms of depression, asking a counselor or therapist for advice, and involving a professional who specializes in issues affecting older people.

So, dear readers, especially adults approaching or in retirement, step up to help yourselves. Read up on depression and how to get help and make your lives happier and more fulfilling in retirement. I always talk about living your one best retirement life and this is the other path toward fulfillment and happiness. Do yourself a favor, get back in the game. Getting out of depression is not easy, but know that you are not alone, that you can get better, and that your community will willingly step in to help you get over sadness and depression.

And after you’ve helped yourself, pass it on, speak to your friends, share this segment, which can be found at onthemoneyradio.org and send your friends or family lists of websites and other resources. Help make their world a better place, which, in doing so, will also make it a better place for you and those around you—in retirement and beyond.