Death by suicide has surpassed death by motor vehicle accident according to a Washington Post article by Tara Bahrampour (June 4, 2013).  This startling statistic has the potential to get worse because suicide risk increases with age.  Reported in this story was the attempted suicide of a senior who was isolated from relationships and experiencing severe financial difficulty.

Retirement and Social Isolation

Retirement increases the risks of social isolation.  Most commonly, the loss of social contact with colleagues, customers and suppliers affects new retirees.  Baby boomers identify very strongly with their jobs, thriving on daily pressures.  For many this has resulted in a neglect of external social networks.  Establishing new friendships takes time and can be a period of a social void and isolation.

Work also provides money.  Even though we have new sources of income in retirement we may experience a lower level of income or a fear of spending our money.  Keeping up with former social connections or activities can be expensive requiring us to cutback.  Withdrawal from these activities can contribute to a sense of isolation.

Men are more at risk

Traditionally women tend to be more socially integrated.  Men rely on their spouses for social networks.  Changes to men’s roles including unemployment or retirement seem to decrease their willingness to be social.  Marital breakdown also increases the likelihood that men will decrease or even sever their contact with family.

Role loss doesn’t seem to affect women in the same way and they continue to integrate socially.  Possibly this will change with the baby boomer cohort moving into retirement.  They are the first generation of women retiring from career jobs.  They too over-identify with their jobs but also identify strongly with other roles including wife, mother and daughter.  They may find retirement socially isolating but their ability to juggle multiple roles and maintain social networks should shield them from isolation.

Choose your friends well

Social integration is the antidote to social isolation.  It lets us rely on one another.  It is about involvement and identity.  From integration we gain a sense of belonging.  But this can take place only if we can afford to integrate.  Choosing a lifestyle that is beyond our financial means creates financial stressors and places us at risk of being unable to maintain these social networks for any long period of time.  Social integration can help individuals through difficult times, providing resources and emotional support.  However, an inability to participate in social networks that are financial out of our reach increases the risk of isolation.  This is increasingly true when challenges such as health or family matters arise.  Make sure that the social groups you choose fit your budget for the long haul.