Depression :: Depression is significant cause of early retirement

Men in late middle age with depressive symptoms are more likely to leave the labor force than men without such symptoms are, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania.

Retirement-age women, though they have a greater tendency to work part time or transition to part-time status, are more likely to opt out completely if they suffer even mild, or sub-threshold, symptoms of depression.

Almost one in 10 adults in the labor force suffers a bout of major depression in a 12-month period.

“In light of our findings, it is of concern that major depression and depressive symptoms are often unrecognized and under-treated,” said lead researcher Jalpa Doshi, Ph.D.

The study will appear in the journal Health Services Research and will be available online in mid-September.

Doshi, a research assistant professor of medicine, and her colleagues looked at data from the Health and Retirement Study, a long-term study covering 48 states. The study followed nearly 3,000 adults between the ages of 53 and 58 every two years between 1994 and 2002 for mental health and labor-force status changes.

The researchers did not examine whether retirement was voluntary or involuntary.

An earlier study of Finnish workers, in a country with a more stable post-retirement safety net system, also showed depression to be a predictor of early retirement. Doshi said it is surprising that this holds true in the United States, where there is increasingly less guarantee of post-retirement income and health care to early retirees. “The burden presented by depression,” she said, “may be higher than we thought.”

“I believe any infirmity might make you think of retiring,” said Eric Kingson, Ph.D., professor of social work and public administration at Syracuse University. The American attitude toward retirement is schizophrenic, Kingson said. “Sometimes, we encourage people to leave work early. To some extent, the pension system does that. When there need to be layoffs, the older people are laid off, but in areas with labor shortages, companies try to retain the workforce.”

“Health plans need better mental health options,” Kingson said. However, many insurance plans are cutting, not adding, benefits.

“If people retire early as a result of depression, in addition to the financial hardship resulting from loss of income, it potentially may have a far-reaching detrimental effect on the health of older workers unable to obtain health insurance,” Doshi said. ”There could be a downward health trajectory.”

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