Thoughts on Mental Health

Man sitting with hands on head in despair.

Mental health is a difficult topic for people to think about and talk about. 

Whether you’re the type to say I’m good, or that doesn’t affect me, or on the other side of the coin, the type of person that may struggle with daily life.  

Regardless of type, mental health is an important component of health for everyone. 

I’ve been blessed with a future-oriented mind.  Instead of dwelling on past events, I tend to analyze and incorporate lessons learned into future situations. 

I’ve always been the “what’s next” type of person, but that’s not the case for many people. 

Great, so how’s that going to help you, the reader? 

Getting Help

Well, while I was still in the service, I was a patient at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a month. 

For the six aging special operators – Green Berets, Rangers, and SEALS — in my cohort, the staff diagnosed and treated a career of injuries. 

Unlike being in a team room where you tend to be more macho than the next guy, NICoE’s discussions and emphasis on healing and wellness drove different conversations, to say the least. 

It was during a few of these sessions that I realized, despite the facades that a couple of the guys were struggling. 

The majority of the gentlemen in this example were in their third decade of service and quickly approaching overdue retirement. 

Like other retirees, they were about to leave hectic, fast-paced lives where they were needed, for the green pastures of retirement. 

They were going to go from being the boss on Friday to being an old retiree that nobody cared about or needed on Monday. 

Retirement Transition

If you’re under the assumption that’ll be an easy transition, you’re probably underestimating the life change that’s about to happen. 

Most people have seen the news about high rates of suicide among veterans, but this is a topic that hits close to home as I continue to lose friends that suddenly feel they have no purpose. 

Even as I write this, I’m remembering John, Bill, and Pete, three wonderful Green Berets that left us too soon. 

Suicide is an extreme conclusion, but, if mental health is ignored, it’s a possible worst-case catastrophic outcome for individuals and surviving family members. 

I know, for a short blog, this was a heavy introduction to mental health.  Luckily, the majority of people in our society won’t contemplate suicide.  But that doesn’t mean people won’t struggle with retirement.

A more common outcome related to mental health in retirement is depression accompanying a sense of loss or lack of purpose. 

Filling the void of employment-related meaning can be hard.

The profession doesn’t matter, but the amount of time you’ve dedicated to your work life and your sense of identity does. 

Retirement Identity

If you follow a traditional retirement timeline, you’ll have spent far more interactive hours at work than at home throughout your life. 

Work is such a big part of life in some countries that nearly every time you meet someone new, the topic of what you do comes up in conversation. 

Retirees often default to what they did to answer these questions, but as time moves on, it seems a bit disingenuous to talk about something you did for a living five, ten, or twenty years ago. 

How do you come to terms with who you are now, and not who you were before? 

Sure, you’ll have fond memories of your working years because the mind has a way of filtering out negative aspects of most memories.  

But how do you answer the question of “What do you do?” without mentioning the fact that you’re retired.  More importantly, how do you keep your mind focused on the present, not the past? 

If you’re not the type of person that can convince yourself not to dwell on the past, the simple answer may be to find something to do. 

Interacting with family and friends, mentoring, volunteering, taking on a part-time job, or starting a new hobby are all tried and true ways to stay busy in retirement. 

No matter how bad your mental state, with help and perseverance there’s a way forward.  If you need professional help or coaching to transition to the next phase of life then seek it out. 

You’ve made it all the way to retirement, so don’t give up now.  Set a new goal of how you want your retired life to look and work toward it.

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