At times, it’s easy to feel as though the term ‘mental health’ is thrown around as a new-fangled buzzword. It seems to be at the forefront of conversations around wellbeing, and you may have noticed employers taking an increased interest in the mental wellbeing of their employees. But far from being a new trend or phase, emphasis on mental wellbeing is here to stay – and that’s a very good thing.
What is mental health?
Mental health is what it says on the tin – it refers to the health of your mind and your emotional wellbeing. It is closely tied to physical health, but is often treated as an entirely separate entity. Every person alive has mental health, just as they also have physical health. However, problems arise when a person’s mental health declines and they become mentally unwell – this is often referred to as having “mental health issues”, or “mental health problems”. Some of the most common mental health problems include depression, anxiety, and stress.
Some people will never experience mental ill health. Some may go through one or two periods of mental ill health throughout their life, often triggered by upsetting events such as bereavement, family issues or health difficulties. For others, mental ill health is an ongoing, long-term problem caused by various factors and/or a chemical imbalance in the brain. In both cases, mental ill health affects how a person perceives the world and their life within it.
Why are we talking about it now?
Speaking openly about mental health is a relatively new cultural development. For a long time, it was expected that people should just “get on with it” and soldier on through any feelings of deep sadness or hopelessness. In wartime, our parents and grandparents had more important things to worry about than feeling blue, and that mentality endured long after it was useful or appropriate.
Our current world is very different from the one that they knew, and even the one many of us knew growing up and in our early adulthood. We have never been so connected, or had access to so much information or news. Likewise, we have never felt such high expectations and pressure from all corners of society to be successful and busy in all areas of our lives.
You may not fully understand the idea of depression, or anxiety, or mental health in general. It’s okay if you can’t comprehend the ins and outs of it, but it will mean a great deal to the people in your life who may be suffering if you can, at the very least, understand this: some people find it more difficult than others to navigate through the world, and for those people, it can be very distressing, frustrating, and lonely. Unfortunately, it isn’t just a case of being able to “cheer up” or “snap out of it”. These people will usually require more support than you can give, just as if they were suffering from a physical illness.
Your mental wellbeing in retirement
For many people, mental wellbeing is tied to having a clear sense of purpose, a good quality of life, and a secure living environment. It’s very common for mental ill health to arise in relation to significant life changes, periods of transition, and disruption.
You’ll spend years counting down to your retirement date, but if you don’t plan for what happens next, you are likely to wake up on day one of retirement thinking, “Oh goodness, I have no idea what to do with myself”.
Moving from working into retirement is a monumental life change. It’s a total shift from a long-established routine, which probably included regular social interaction, feelings of fulfilment, and a sense of purpose and stability, into a vast expanse of unstructured time with an endless number of ways in which to fill it. This can be extremely overwhelming, and without a proper plan, you may find yourself drifting through your later life without direction. This can feel demoralising, making it even more difficult to motivate yourself into action – and if it persists for a long time, you may find yourself feeling depressed. It’s essential to plan ahead to ensure that the transition is smooth, both emotionally and practically.
That’s why we place so much emphasis on your retirement plans and what “a life well lived” means to you. How you’ll fill your time in retirement is just as important as how you’ll get there.
What can I do?
- Ask yourself these five questions. Spend some meaningful time on them and build a picture of what a fulfilling life in retirement looks like for you. From there, we can help you to put plans in place to make them happen.
- Understand the signs and symptoms of mental ill health. If you notice them early, you can act on them before it reaches a point where it feels too difficult to address them.
The core symptoms of depression are:
- Loss of interest in things which you used to enjoy
- Low mood or feeling of hopelessness which lasts more than two weeks
- Low energy or feeling more tired than usual
Some additional symptoms include:
- Feeling tearful
- Finding it difficult to make decisions
- Feeling anxious or worried
- Changes in appetite
- Disturbed sleep (sleeping too much or too little, or struggling to fall asleep)
See here for a comprehensive list of symptoms. It’s also important to note that these can be signs of other illnesses, so if you experience any of the three core symptoms, you should consult your GP as soon as you are able.
Sometimes these symptoms can come on very slowly over time, so it can be hard to notice them. Make sure the people you regularly see in your life – friends, family, carers – understand them, too, so that they can catch them even if you don’t.
- You may have heard the phrase “self-care” recently. All this means is having several things that you can do for yourself that soothes and cheers you up without fail. It might be a favourite song that never fails to make you smile, or shutting your husband out of the kitchen while you bake a cake, or going for a drive down your favourite country route. Maybe it’s looking at old family pictures, going for a walk, or reading a book. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as it is something that lifts your spirits. If you’re struggling to think of anything, try these.