Director of Public Health Annual Report 2023: Mental Health Matters

mental health matters

9. Age Well- Mental health as we grow older

The things that affect our mental health do not change as we grow older. Being physically active, getting enough sleep, and having a good diet all remain important to protecting our mental health as well as contact with nature, involvement with arts and music, learning and mindfulness.

However, as we reach retirement, the way we spend our days often changes along with our social network. Both these factors can influence our mental health.


Any significant change can impact on our wellbeing, even when it is positive or expected. Retirement is a good example of this with research finding it to be the tenth most stressful event across life.

For some people, continuing in part-time work or retiring at a later age can be beneficial to their mental health.

Overall, however, retirement can be positive for many people. The protective effects of retirement on mental health are frequently greater for women and for people whose job involved manual labour. The benefits may also be stronger for individuals who were at greater risk for depression before retirement.

Many people choose to use their retirement to volunteer in their community. As outlined in the previous section, volunteering has a positive impact on life satisfaction and wellbeing. Research also suggests that volunteering can reduce the risk of dementia.

Changes to our social network

Having a strong social network of friends or family is important to our mental health whatever age we are. As we get older life events – such as retirement, changes to physical health, and bereavement – can lead to changes in our social network and leave us feeling more isolated.

Social isolation and loneliness increase the risks of depression, anxiety, suicide and dementia for older adults.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to protect our mental health as we age. This includes joining groups of people with similar interests, accessing online support, and using devices – such as computers, laptops and smartphones – to maintain social contact with family and friends. Someolder adults may, however, find it hard to use this technology.