Why 28% of Retirees are Depressed

By Fritz Gilbert, TheRetirementManifesto.com

Special to Financial Independence Hub

It’s not something we talk about very often, but we should.

I talked about it recently with a man who had been a professional basketball player.  He even played in the Olympics.  He was a star.  And then, he was forced into retirement.  Many retirees are depressed, and those who are forced into retirement are especially prone to experiencing the challenge of depression.

I’ve always been intrigued by life after professional sports, and it was a fascinating discussion.

When he retired from basketball, he faced the same reality most of us face when we retire.

We aren’t as special as we thought we were. 

People come, and people go.  As much as we prefer to think otherwise, we’re essentially a gear in the machine that can (and will) be replaced. The world of basketball is doing quite well without him. Just as the world of aluminum is doing quite well without me, thank you very much.

The reality that you’re no longer the expert you thought you were is one of the reasons many retirees are depressed.

Depression is an unexpected reality for many when they retire, yet it seldom gets the attention it deserves.

I’m hoping to change that with this post.

Today, we’re looking into why so many retirees are depressed, and what you can do about it if you find yourself among the 28% who report being depressed in retirement.

The professional basketball player wasn’t prepared for life after his career ended. It’s true for most of us, and often leads to depression in retirement. Click To Tweet

Why 28% of Retirees are Depressed

The discussion with the basketball player (who will go unnamed to protect his identity) was arranged by a mutual friend, who happens to be a reader of this blog.  I had a great chat with him and enjoyed his perspective on the reality of depression in retirement.  Fortunately, he’s found his path forward and is now working with a firm that advises other professional athletes on how to prepare for their inevitable retirements.  He’s eager to learn and asked some great questions, and I’ve no doubt he’s found a place where he will contribute and help others.

It’s easy to envision depression among retired professional athletes.  After all, they’ve been on top of the world, and it’s easy to get the perception that your best days are behind you.

But what about the rest of us?

I found a fascinating study titled Prevalence of Depression in Retirees: A Meta-Analysis that sheds some light on the realities of how many retirees are depressed. (Shout-out to Benjamin Brandt’s Every Day is Saturday for making me aware of the study.)

Depression is a serious problem, with the WHO reporting 300 million people suffering worldwide, the primary reason for the 800,000 suicides committed every year (sources from the study cited above).  The study broke down the data from previous studies to compile their results on depression in retirement, and the findings are worth noting.

Key Findings on Depression in Retirement

To save you the effort of reading the entire report, I’ve summarized the key findings below:

  • 28% of retirees suffer from depression, or almost 1/3 of all retirees.
  • The highest prevalence of depression is among people forced into retirement, either due to downsizing or illness.
  • The uncertainty of the retirement transition results in retirees being more susceptible to developing mental health issues than the general population.
  • Commitment and support from family members reduce the risk of experiencing depression during retirement (from the report: “the greater the level of social support, the lower the incidents of depression”).

I also cited additional studies in my post, Will Retirement Be Depressing, in which I cite the following facts:

  • Retirement increases the probability of depression by 40%.
  • For some, retirement diminishes well-being by removing a large portion of one’s identity.  For years, your job was an easy answer to the frequent question “What do you do?”. With retirement, that identity is gone.
  • 60% of folks retire earlier than they had planned, which can increase the risk of depression
  • When people have spent the majority of their time fostering relationships with co-workers at the expense of people outside the workplace, there is a natural sense of isolation following the move into retirement.

The Bottom Line:  Retirement is a big adjustment, with the loss of many of the non-financial benefits once received from the workplace (sense of identity, purpose, relationships, structure, etc) coming as a surprise to many.  The unexpected loss of these benefits often leads to a difficult transition, which frequently leads to depression.  Fortunately, the majority of the depression highlighted in the study was not severe, and most retirees work through it with time.

Recommendations For Dealing With Depression in Retirement

Given the increased risks faced during the retirement transition, the report summarized recommendations they had found in the studies they researched (bold added by me):

“For this reason, some of the articles included in this review suggest that health professionals must implement programs intended to evaluate and help people in this period of their lives…helping individuals in their search for new activities that motivate them, to encourage them to participate in community groups, to help them build the necessary will powerto face the new situation, and to find activities that improve their self-esteem.”

Those highlighted terms are critical, and worth repeating:

  • search for new activities that motivate you
  • participate in community groups
  • strengthen your willpower to face the realities of retirement
  • find activities that improve your self-esteem.

While those four bullet points are powerful, I felt the study could have provided more advice for folks who find themselves depressed in retirement. As I researched suggestions to address depression in retirement, other common themes became obvious.  Below are two specific sources, with their recommendations as an example:

New Retirement:  Retirement Depression: 9 Tips for Combating This Very Common Syndrome

  1. Seek Help
  2. Find Purpose
  3. Develop Your Own Schedule/Routine and Stay Social
  4. Slide into Retirement, Don’t Make it an Abrupt Transition
  5. Volunteer
  6. Work
  7. Do What Makes You Happy
  8. Stay Physically Active
  9. Get a Dog

I cited Benjamin Brandt’s Every Day is Saturday newsletter earlier (it’s where I found the study).  In that newsletter, Brandt suggested the following:

  1. Ease into it, if possible.
  2. Stick to a schedule.
  3. Stay connected with friends and colleagues.
  4. Give back to the community.

Finally, in my previous articles on the topic (Will Retirement Be Depressing, The Dark Side of Retirement) as well as in Chapter 3 (Hidden Challenges) of my book, I offered my suggestions for how to deal with depression in retirement, summarized below:

  1. Plan for the non-financial elements of retirement in your final few years of work (studies have shown a direct correlation between the amount of time planning and the ease of the transition).
  2. Develop alternative means to replace the non-financial benefits of work before you retire.
  3. Focus on your physical fitness (it helps your head as much as your heart).
  4. Build a bucket list of things you’d like to accomplish in retirement.
  5. Do some soul-searching before you retire on what really matters to you in life.
  6. Be social, and build a network of “retirement friends” before you retire.
  7. Experiment with various levels of structure in your retirement.
  8. Get engaged with a charity.
  9. Start a Retirement Mastermind Group.
  10. Don’t be afraid to seek help (start with SAMHSA.gov)
  11. Find a new sense of Purpose.
  12. Focus on your Spirituality.

The good news is, most retirees work through the depression in time.  In our latest study on Retirement Blind Spots, it’s worth noting that the happiest folks in the survey were those who had been retired for more than two years.  This fact was also highlighted in an Age Wave study I reviewed in an earlier article, posted again here for your encouragement:

Yes, retirement is a big transition.

While it’s true that almost a third of retirees are depressed, the good news is that it’s typically a mild form and most folks work their way through it as part of the transition through the “messy middle” stage.  If you’re struggling with depression in retirement, I hope the numerous tips offered above are of help.  The strongest recommendation I can make (credit to my teacher, Joe Rubbo, who I discuss in my book) is to seek help if you need it.  Don’t be too proud to admit you’re having a hard time with the transition to retirement.  There are experts who are willing to help.


28% of retirees are depressed.

That’s a shockingly high number and far too little is written about the problem.  While I’ve written on the topic of depression several times now, I felt another post was appropriate.

  • Perhaps it was my discussion with that professional basketball player.
  • Perhaps it was the Prevalence of Depression in Retirement study I just read.
  • Perhaps it was because you needed to hear it.

Whatever the reason, it felt like a topic that deserved more attention.  Unlike my previous posts, today’s article dedicates more content to recommendations you can use if you’re struggling with depression.

If you’re among the 28% of retirees who are struggling with depression, I hope the suggestions are of help.  I wrote them with you in mind.

Your Turn:  Are you struggling with depression during your transition to retirement?  Did you struggle in the past, but found a way to work through it?  What tips do you have for others who are struggling with depression?  Let’s chat…

Fritz Gilbert is the Founder of The Retirement Manifesto, a Plutus Award winning blog dedicated to helping people Achieve A Great Retirement.  After 30+ years in Corporate America, most recently as a Commodity Trader, Fritz retired as planned in June 2018 at Age 55.  He and his wife are looking forward to extended travel and “giving back” to their community through charitable work in retirement. This blog was published on his website on June 22, 2023 and is republished here with his permission.

4 thoughts on “Why 28% of Retirees are Depressed

  1. This is a great topic and so true. Its been tough on me, the first 5 years I think.
    Then comes separation from your adult children as they marry. Not all of us have any grandchildren. Its tough, its lonely. Even at the golf course the many senior men are toxic, overly competitive and nasty in the leagues and golf groups. I am considering leaving the club as it abusive at times. I love golf but not the regular seniors.

    1. interesting comment about how sr men are overly competitive. I wonder whether they had the same characteristic as children.
      I am not a religious person, but I do wonder whether engaging and participating at a local church is also an overlooked way to obtain a sense of purpose and identity. I recall reading that individuals who regularly attend a church (mosque, or synagogue etc) report higher quality of life.

  2. Hi I had originally planned on retiring at age 40yrs n traveling the world but have pushed it to 43 as I was getting very agitated whenever I thought about my retirement next year. I was afraid especially of being lonely and not having enough to do. So I first made a list of all things I would have liked to do in my life, added things that I still love to do and things I am still not good at. Choosing to learn something new every year for instance more than basic computer functions like coding and a previous love of reading will keep the brain active. For physical well being, playing more tennis and learning a new sport. Add traveling 6 months a year, volunteering, visiting family/friends once or twice a year and I have a lot to do over the next 30 to 40yrs. I plan on taking small mini runs of retirement over the next few years to see if my plan works. I feeling excited again.

  3. Very relevant article given the baby boomer generation is about 1/2 way into this lifecycle. I am at risk of depression, and have have struggling to prepare for it. This article has been helpful in acknowledging the risk – to myself, my wife and my family. Staying fit, avoiding excessive alcohol are other points that I would put on the list. This has to be done carefully.

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