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Most of us look forward to our retirement. It’s seen as a time for relaxation, a well-deserved break from the demands of work, and a time when we can put our own goals and desires first. The kids have long left home, the grandkids are a delight when they’re around, but for the most part, it’s a time for ourselves. But retirement is not without its challenges. For many older Australians, retirement can bring with it some unexpected feelings, and can even see the onset of depression. 

Whilst depression can affect people at any stage of their lives, some studies show that the risk of depression increases by up to 40% after retirement. This statistic might be a little alarming, but it simply highlights the need for a better understanding of depression in older adults and effective strategies to combat against it. 

Why does depression affect older Australians?

Depression is a complex thing. It’s characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities and things we once loved, for example. It can have a significant impact on your daily life and overall well-being. For older Australians, depression is often overlooked or misdiagnosed, as symptoms associated with depression may be attributed to typical ageing or other medical conditions. 

There are several factors that contribute to those alarming statistics about depression in older Australians, particularly those who have recently retired. For starters, retirement involves a loss of the daily routine, many of our social interactions, and a sense of purpose that work provides. The sudden absence of these things can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, reduced self-worth, a lack of direction and motivation, and more. These things can all have a hand in the development of depression. 

Loneliness and isolation are a couple of the most common challenges faced by older Australians, especially those who have only recently left the workforce, lost a spouse or close friend, or have limited contact with relatives and other loved ones. Reduced social interactions and a shrinking social network after retirement can significantly impact mental health. Interestingly, studies have consistently shown that social connectedness plays a vital role in promoting good mental health, and the absence of these connections can contribute to feelings of sadness and loneliness.

Financial stress is another worry for many retired people, particularly those who do not have sufficient superannuation or savings to carry them through their golden years. The Australian old age pension is also (in)famously insufficient for the costs of living in Australia. Financial strain is one of the most common risk factors for depression, and this is particularly risky for older Australians already facing a number of significant life changes. 

Finally, health concerns can play a hand in the development of depression in older Australians. Chronic illness and pain are common in older adults, and can have a big impact on mental health. 

How do I know if I’m suffering from depression as an older Australian? 

Depression has common signs and symptoms for many people, including older Australians. If you’re wondering whether you might be suffering from depression, look out for things like this: 

  • Prolonged sadness, numbness, or anxiety
  • Negative self-talk or self-criticism
  • Excessive crying or increased tearfulness
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Increased forgetfulness or memory problems
  • Indecisiveness or difficulty making choices
  • Persistent fatigue or lack of energy
  • Slowed movements or lethargy
  • Changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or hypersomnia)
  • Significant changes in appetite or weight
  • Unexplained physical symptoms or body pains
  • Suicidal thoughts or preoccupation with death

Remember, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional or mental health specialist for an accurate diagnosis if you are experiencing these symptoms. Depression is often misdiagnosed or missed altogether in older Australians, as the symptoms can be attributed to ‘just getting older’ or other health concerns you might experience as you get older. If you’re unsure, and you’re not feeling yourself, it’s time to reach out for help. 

How can we combat depression in older Australians?

To tackle depression in older Australians after retirement, it is essential to have in place effective coping strategies and support systems. Maintaining a structured routine, for example, can provide a sense of purpose and stability for older adults. So too can engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment, such as volunteering, taking classes to learn something new, or pursuing hobbies. These things can each help combat feelings of isolation and enhance mental wellbeing.

Although it can be hard to ask for help, seeking professional support can make all the difference for older Australians experiencing symptoms of depression. If you think you might be experiencing some of the symptoms of depression, you should reach out to a counsellor or psychologist who specialises in treating depression. Your therapist will have expertise in several different approaches to uncovering the roots of your depression and developing strategies to overcome it. Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, have been proven to be very effective in treating depression. CBT helps you to challenge negative thought patterns and regain a sense of control over your life, which is incredibly vital for older and retired Australians. 

It’s worth noting that depression in older Australians – whilst common – is not just a normal part of aging, and should not be dismissed or ignored. As you get older, you should prioritise not only your physical health, but also your mental health. If you’re not feeling your best, and are struggling with signs of depression, it’s time to reach out and get the support you need and deserve. Think you might be experiencing depression now that you’ve retired? Reach out today and book your appointment with Integrated Health Specialists. We can help you get to the bottom of how you’re feeling, and help you to feel like yourself again.

 

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen