Depression In Older Adults: Can It Develop After Retirement?

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis
Updated December 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Chronic illnesses, financial stress, injury and grief can put older adults at an increased risk of developing depression—though many might find their symptoms are frequently dismissed, misdiagnosed and/or undertreated.

Some economists indicate that the risk of developing depression can increase by 40% after retirement, possibly due to the occurrence of reduced social interactions, less structured routine and a lower sense of purpose. 

Understanding symptoms of depression and treatment options can help retirees manage their symptoms. Read on to learn more. 

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Facing New Mental Health Challenges After Retirement?

Depression can be an umbrella term for several mood disorders that are typically characterized by low mood and sadness. Types of depression that may occur in older adults include:

  • Major depressive disorder: In this condition, symptoms generally last for at least two weeks and can interfere with daily life. Symptoms can be either physical or emotional. 
  • Persistent depressive disorder (PPD): Symptoms associated with this condition can last for two years or more. They may be either physical or emotional.
  • Depressive disorder due to another medical condition: This is generally defined as depression that can be directly related to the effects of a medical condition, such as heart disease or Parkinson’s disease. People may have varying experiences with this type of depression. 

Symptoms Of Depression In Older Adults

Symptoms of depression generally remain fairly consistent as we age, however, some practitioners may incorrectly assume that older adult’s symptoms are a part of typical aging—or they might provide a misdiagnosis (such as Alzheimer’s disease). 

Common symptoms of depression can include the following:

  • Prolonged feelings of sadness, numbness or nervousness 
  • Crying easily and/or frequently
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless or worthless
  • Negative self-talk or guilt 
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Difficulty concentrating, which may increase the risk of falling
  • Forgetfulness
  • Indecisiveness
  • Fatigue 
  • Moving or talking lethargically 
  • Sleeping changes (such as not sleeping enough or sleeping too much)
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Unexplained body pains
  • Suicidal ideation 
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988, and is available 24/7.
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Retirement, Depression And Risk Factors

Major life transitions, including retirement, can increase your risk of developing depression. This may be due to a combination of factors, including changes in social networks, changes in assets and financial security, reduced access to mental healthcare, less mental stimulation and a reduced sense of purpose. 

Additionally, the occurrence of physical conditions that are diagnosed later in life, such as heart disease and Parkinson’s disease, can put people at a higher risk of developing depression

Some other risk factors for depression can include the following: 

  • A family history of depression
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • The loss of a spouse and/or living alone
  • Financial challenges
  • Medical conditions—including stroke, cancer and cardiovascular disease
  • Mobility, vision impairment or other impediments to daily functioning 
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Caregiver stress

Addressing Depression After Retirement

Adjusting to the possible loss of routine that occurs after retirement can be challenging, and has been shown quantitatively by a meta-analysis from 2020 estimating that nearly one-third of retirees experience depression. However, there are many effective strategies that can help address depression that occurs after retirement: 

Tapering Working Hours

The transition to retirement from a 40+ hour workweek can be jarring. You may want to consider having a discussion with your employer to see if you can work part-time or work from home as you transition into retirement. 

Avoiding “Full Retirement”

For some individuals, working part-time after retirement age can benefit mental health. If your job makes you happy, you don’t necessarily have to leave it. If you cannot stay at your job, however, you may want to consider mentorship opportunities, teaching or volunteering to keep yourself busy. 

Building A (New) Routine

As you transition, you might want to consider maintaining a calendar with routine events. Routine can reduce stress, and improve sleep quality, diet and physical health. 

Adding activities like volunteering, taking a class at a local college and exercise to your schedule can double as social opportunities and improve mental health. 

Statistically, retirees who engage in activities are suggested to experience the most positive mental health effects from retirement. 

Considering Support From Your Health Team

If you are experiencing a change in your mental health following retirement, you might consider seeing your medical practitioner. They can conduct a physical examination, evaluate medical records and family history and collect bloodwork to rule out other conditions. Your doctor can conduct mental health assessments and provide a depression diagnosis, or they may refer you to an in-person mental health professional. 

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Facing New Mental Health Challenges After Retirement?

How Can Online Therapy Help Those Entering Retirement? 

Overall, it is estimated that 28% of retirees might experience depression, which is thought by many to be significantly higher than other older adult populations. Regardless of whether you’re diagnosed with depression, you may want to consider reaching out to a therapist to talk with during such a major life change. 

A common type of talk therapy, called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can be very effective for addressing depression. For people who live in rural areas, online CBT can be a helpful option. Additionally, many find that licensed online therapists—like those at BetterHelp—can provide therapy that may be more cost-effective. This can be  particularly useful for retirees on a budget.

Is Online Therapy Effective? 

A recent Cureus study found data that suggests that online CBT was generally effective at addressing many psychiatric disorders, including depression

It was also found to produce comparable results to in-person methods for a range of other possible co-occurring conditions; such as anxiety disorders, panic disorder, substance use disorder, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder—or OCD. 

Takeaway

Retirement may involve a major lifestyle adjustment, which can put retirees at a heightened risk of experiencing depression. If you are diagnosed with depression, there are many steps you can take to improve your mental health, including maintaining a routine, retiring gradually and reaching out to a therapist. Online cognitive behavioral therapy has been suggested to be effective at addressing the symptoms of depression, and it can be less expensive and more widely available than traditional in-person therapy. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

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