By Howard R. Pressman, CFP®
CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER
Egan, Berger & Weiner, LLC
What does retirement look like to you?
To hear the financial services industry tell it, retirement looks like a distinguished gray-haired man and an attractive silver-haired woman walking hand in hand down a magnificent beach, enjoying the sunset while gazing lovingly and contentedly into each other’s eyes. They don’t have a care in the world, and why should they? They are retired.
This is the image we’ve all seen in hundreds of retirement commercials and advertisements, not to mention those for pharmacologically assisted intimacy (that, however, is a whole different topic).
But is there a dark side of retirement that no one talks about?
Statistics suggest there is. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
- The proportion of older people treated for a combination of cocaine and alcohol abuse tripled between 1992 and 2008.
- Cocaine abuse among the elderly was the leading cause of hospital admissions involving drugs, even outpacing admissions for prescription drug abuse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Among Americans of all ages, 12.4 per 100,000 will take their own life each year.
- Among people over age 65, that number jumps to 14.9—and some experts believe the instances are under-reported.
- As startling as those numbers are, white men over age 65 take their own lives at a rate of 29 per 100,000—almost triple the overall rate.
There are certainly many contributors to these troubling statistics.
However, leaving the workforce can create a profound sense of loss. Retirees are often left searching for an identity, as well as for ways to stay socially connected, and lead an active, productive, and healthy lifestyle.
These issues can become even more challenging as we continue to age, face health issues and the loss of independence, and endure the loss of friends and the loss of a spouse. With so many significant changes taking place, it’s not surprising that depression is the most significant risk factor for suicide among the elderly.
Whether you’re preparing for retirement or in retirement now, take some time to consider the following:
- What are you interested in that you would one day like to explore further?
- What three to six people can you turn to for emotional, physical, and spiritual support?
- What will a perfect day in retirement look like? What about a perfect week?
- In what ways will you stay active and fit in retirement?
Now, complete the following sentences:
- If I had the time, I would …
- If I had the money, I would …
- It’s never too late to …
Remember, retirement is more than just a financial event.
It is one of life’s major transitions and should be approached as such. Working with us to prepare your finances is certainly a crucial aspect to a happy retirement, but so is preparing your mind and your body.
With a sound financial plan in place, you can do the things you envision and avoid the stress that comes with worrying about how the bills will be paid. With emotional well-being comes vitality, energy, and the desire to do and explore, as well as the friends and family to enjoy and to turn to for support.
And with health comes the ability to make the most of all of these wonderful aspects of life.
Balancing care for your mind, body, and wallet will help you enjoy the retirement of your dreams, whether it’s frolicking on the beach, playing with the grandkids, volunteering, or starting a new business.
Live the life you want with intent, not by default. And above all, be happy.
- Laura, Robert. Retirement Karma: Is It Going to Bite You? Forbes.com, November 21, 2011
- Span, Paula. Suicide Rates Are High Among the Elderly. The New York Times, August 7, 2013
Caring for the Elderly
Older adults make up 12 percent of the US population, but account for 18 percent of all suicide deaths.
This is an alarming statistic, as the elderly are the fastest growing segment of the population, making the issue of later-life suicide a major public-health priority.
Consider these facts:
- In 2002, the annual suicide rate for persons over the age of 65 was over 15 per 100,000 individuals; this number increases for those aged 75 to 84, with over 17 suicide deaths per every 100,000. The number rises even higher for those over age 85.
- Elder suicide may be under-reported by 40 percent or more. Not counted are “silent suicides,” such as deaths from overdoses, self-starvation or dehydration, and “accidents.”
- The elderly have a high rate of completing suicide because they use lethal means, such as firearms, hanging, and drowning. Double suicides involving spouses or partners occur most frequently among the aged.
- An obstacle faced by mental health professionals and other caregivers in reaching this group is that older adults do not usually seek treatment for mental health problems. Because of that, involved family and friends can play an important role in prevention.
What are the warning signs that someone you know may be suicidal?
- Losing interest in things or activities that are usually found enjoyable
- Cutting back social interaction, self-care, and grooming
- Breaking medical regimens (such as going off diets, prescriptions)
- Experiencing or expecting a significant personal loss (spouse or other)
- Feeling hopeless and/or worthless
- Putting affairs in order, giving things away, or making changes in wills
- Stock-piling medication or obtaining other lethal means
- Being preoccupied with death or a lack of concern about personal safety.
- Making remarks such as, “This is the last time that you’ll see me,” or, “I won’t be needing any more appointments,” should raise concern.
The most significant predictor of a suicidal attempt is an expression of suicidal intent.
- Characteristics of high risk are increasing age, being a white male, and being divorced.
- The strongest risk factor appears to be a major psychiatric disorder at the time of death, as major depression is very often associated with suicide in later life.
- Most elder suicide victims either live with relatives or are in regular contact with family or friends, suggesting that depression is a bigger factor than social isolation.
- Misuse of alcohol in combination with a psychiatric illness also signifies a risk.
All of these factors can be further intensified by medical illness, family discord, financial trouble, physical disability, unrelieved pain, loss, and grief.
Despite the availability of safe and effective treatments, late-life mood disorders remain a large problem.
One reason for this may be that the public sees depression and suicide as normal aspects of aging.
Also, a sizeable portion of the population views youth suicide as a greater tragedy than late-life suicide.
This way of thinking works against effective outreach to the elderly and efforts to understand and treat their conditions. The health care system is not meeting the needs of many elderly, and discriminatory coverage and reimbursement policies for mental health care are significant barriers to treatment.
Why isn’t more help available?