Q. My husband is older than me. He was forced to retire at 65, and I have to continue working for three years. He is very depressed, and I am concerned about his health. What can we do?
A. Statistically, men have more difficulty with retirement than do women; this is particularly true if one is forced to retire because of age or downsizing. While women tend to see retirement as a beginning, men often view it as an end.
You are right to be concerned about his health. Research findings indicate that men who retire involuntarily are more depressed, less well-adjusted, and less healthy than those who choose retirement. Cornell University researchers determined that a man’s employment status is a strong predictor of his well-being.
Many times those who have retired get well-intentioned but impractical advice from others. Friends have likely told your husband to find a hobby. Most men don’t have one, and they are unlikely to take up stamp collecting at 65. Instead, encourage him to reenter the job market or start a business. Companies are often eager to hire retired people who do not require insurance coverage and have good work habits. He may not make as much money as he did in the past, but he may enjoy his new job more than he ever enjoyed his former career. If he has a particular skill, encourage him to start his own business. People pay good money to have an in-home computer consultant, someone who can do home repairs, or a person knowledgeable about installation of appliances.
If money is not a major concern, your husband could consider volunteer work. Many places have a need for men who give time and attention to help young people with school work and life skills. Organizations need volunteers to assist the elderly or to work in community arts programs. Depending on his level of education or expertise, he may consider teaching a class at a local community college.
There are many opportunities after retirement. Your husband and you should have a brainstorming session to determine a reasonable plan for moving forward.
Q. I’ve heard that depression in men is different from depression in women. Is that true?
A. Many men experience depression differently than do women. Men are usually taught that they must be strong and in control of their emotions. When they experience depression, they tend to ignore or deny their feelings and express them outwardly.
The most common symptoms of depression in men are physical pain, anger, and reckless behaviors. Men may develop backaches, frequent headaches, sleep problems, or even sexual dysfunction. These may be real complaints, but if there is no physical reason for the symptoms, the problems may be a sign of depression. Anger can range from irritability, a short temper, or extreme sensitivity to abusive behavior toward loved ones. Men who commit acts of domestic violence are often experiencing serious depression. Reckless behaviors can range from driving too fast or engaging in dangerous sports to drinking excessively, engaging in unsafe sex, or abusing drugs. These behaviors are one of the reasons that the suicide rate is 4 times higher for depressed men than it is for depressed women.
Some men display more typical signs of depression including sadness, withdrawal, and loss of interest in activities. They may choose to sit home, ignore their hygiene, and display little emotion.
Regardless of how the depression presents, it is important for men to realize that it is not a sign of weakness. They can get help through medication, exercise, psychotherapy, self-help books, or websites such as helpguide.com; however, taking some action to deal with depression is the first step in over-coming it.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice for several years. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. If you have questions, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.