Looking after mental health in later life

Yesterday’s blog touched on the mental health crisis of a young woman.  Sadly, there’s a lot of distress about in these Covid days and it’s affecting all generations.

As I edged into retirement at the start of this year I hoped my stress levels would reduce and I’d start to feel calmer and more relaxed. 

Sadly that’s not happened, quite the reverse in many ways.  I feel more anxious, more often these days and getting a really good night’s sleep is a rare event.

I put part of this down to how Covid has changed my world scuppering much of my daily routine and plans to travel. Happily I’m coping much better with lockdown 2 than lockdown 1 as I’ve adapted my life to cope with the various restrictions. 

This has included stepping up and developing my exercise programme to include more outdoor running.  I’ve also taken on a couple of projects that have given me renewed purpose, some status and more social interaction.

I try to approach each day in a different way now, I’m planning less, not constantly working through to-do lists nor am I counting days to the end of lockdown or the next holiday.

I think these lifestyle changes plus having gone through the experience of lockdown 1 has made me cope better this time round, I am feeling that bit more resilient.

Despite this I have found the mental and emotional transition from work to retirement a bigger challenge that I imagined it would be.

I’m far from alone in this, according to the Mental Health Foundation one in five older people in the community and two in five people living in care experience depression or poor mental health.

MHF produce a very thoughtfully written guide called ‘How to look after your mental health in later life.’

Although I’ve stumbled upon some good things, there’s plenty of advice in the guide that I could have done with nothing at the beginning of 2020.

I’ll summarise its key points over this and the next couple of blogs, the first section covers how to prepare for retirement.

Be prepared for changes

Getting older and retirement both involve a change in lifestyle for most people.

Ready to retire?

There is no longer a compulsory retirement age, with the default age of 65 having been phased out. It is important to note that retirement age is not the same as state pension age, which can range between 61 and 68 depending on gender and date of birth.

The age of retirement is decided by the employee, because not everyone feels ready to retire at the same time. If you want, or need, to keep working, discuss this with your employer. Or, you may see this as an opportunity to work part time, change to flexible working hours, or find a new job.

  • The law is evolving in this area, so follow the links in the ‘Employment’ section of www.gov.uk for current information.
  • If you think you have experienced age discrimination, organisations such as Age UK and Acas can offer information, advice and help

Still busy

Being retired doesn’t mean you aren’t still busy. Being retired (or semi-retired) can be a busy life. Friends and family can have plans for your time, filling it with anything from childcare to DIY tasks. It is important to make time for your own interests. This can be a chance to try a new activity or learn new skills.

Sense of purpose

If your work or career is a major part of your life, consider how to deal with the changes to:

  • The social aspect of your life if your job also provided friendships
  • Your sense of self-worth and self-esteem if you felt valued at work
  • Your financial security

If you haven’t had many interests outside of work it can be hard to ‘find something new to do’ and it may take a few attempts before you find something that’s right for you. Take your time and think about the skills you possess that can be put to good use and give you fulfilment – perhaps try helping out with a local community organisation or doing conservation work.

With others

Social interaction is important for maintaining your wellbeing. If you are used to sharing life’s ups and downs with others at work, keep up friendships once you retire. Others who are your age are great sounding boards for dealing with the challenges of retirement and can understand the transition into retirement. You should also look to develop new friendships with people of all ages. Friendships with both older and younger people help to keep you in touch with the world as it changes.


Some people do develop mental health problems or conditions, such as depression, dementia or memory loss, as they get older, but it isn’t an inevitable part of old age. However, if you think you are developing a mental health problem or condition, don’t worry and just take action, as there are treatments available.

  • If you are worried about your memory, or dementia, speak to your GP or visit www.dementiacare.org.uk for more information.

You might think that pursuing new learning and work is just for young people, but volunteering, career changes and returning to education are becoming more popular with people over 50. Many organisations depend on the skills and experience that older people possess. Don’t dismiss volunteering as for ‘do-gooders’: many people can tell you it’s an essential part of getting work experience. Volunteering can even be good for your health.

Published by brianjonesdiary

Dad, husband, brother and son. Interested in travel, politics, sport, health and much more. Semi-retired and aiming to making the most of life as I approach my sixth decade.

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