The high profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain stimulated examination of a growing tragedy. Suicide now is the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S., surpassing car wrecks. While suicide rates are growing among middle-schoolers and teenagers, death by one’s own hand is accelerating later in life, especially with women age 50 and older.
While Spade and Bourdain hung themselves, there has been a staggering rise of females using lethal drugs to end life, especially narcotic pain relievers hydrocodone and oxycodone. Consider those little pills as dangerous as a 38 caliber bullet.
Much of the conversation about retirement revolves around money. Kate Spade and Chef Bourdain had money. Their sadness stemmed from mental illness, depression, loneliness, failing relationships, and in Bourdain’s case, addiction.
Kate Spade had battled depression for years and reportedly fell into a deep funk days before her death because her husband of 24 years was seeking to end their marriage. Bourdain shot to fame with his 2000 book, Kitchen Confidential. He confessed that he had been exposed to drugs at an early age. He admitted using heroin, cocaine, and alcohol to excess even as he worked his way through celebrity kitchens. He traveled 250 days a year and said he was “absolutely exhausted.” It’s lonely on the road and his ex-wife and 11 year old daughter were back in New York. Loneliness, loss of intimacy and contact with loved ones and dear friends, kills.
The late Dr. John Cacioppo was a pioneering researcher in the field of social neuroscience, bridging biology and psychology. His academic pursuits were inspired by insight that followed a near death experience in a horrendous car crash, the idea that love and social connections are what really matter in life.
Professor Cacioppo told The Guardian in 2016 that loneliness increases the odds of an early death by 20 percent, “about the same effect as obesity, though obesity does not make you as miserable as loneliness.” Loneliness can make one compensate by binging on sweets to ease misery. Dr. Gary Small, a brain and longevity expert at UCLA Longevity Center, calls “loneliness a public health risk for our nation’s seniors.”
Eating to compensate, especially sweetened foods, contributes to exploding incidences of diabetes among seniors, which leads to myriad complications. Loneliness is linked to Alzheimer’s, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases, even cancer. Cancer tumors tend to metastasize faster in lonely people.
A 2010 AARP study showed that more than one-third of those surveyed age 45 and older were lonely. Married respondents were less likely to be lonely compared to the never married. However, “gray divorce” is on the rise, with one in every four divorces occurring among couples over 50.
How do these trends impact thinking about retirement, whether you call it your Third Act, or the critical 4th Quarter, from age 75 on? The focus tends to be “running out of money.” Running out of friends, loved ones, and people you enjoy and who enjoy you, may be a bigger threat.
Where are you going to live after retirement? Will you move away from children and grandchildren, other loved ones? Over the years there have been stories about couples moving to North Georgia or some other remote location, building a home surrounded by “splendid isolation.” The husband dies before the wife, as roughly 80 percent of men do, leaving the widow alone on a mountaintop a long way from doctors, stores, church, and friends. Now what?
Close friends often come from shared experiences—childhood, school, military service, work, church, athletics, charity outreach. As you go through various life transitions, are you slowly drifting away from friends and shared purpose? If many of your social contacts come through the workplace, when you retire will you lose important interactions?
Money may allow you to sleep at night, but what are you waking up to in the morning? Human contact, the nurturing of relationships with family and friends is critical to a sense of purpose, working toward shared goals, collaboration, meaning, feeling useful and wanted. Many people post-retirement, especially busy professionals, C-suite managers, and closely-held business owners, report “boredom” as a challenge.
After any major life transition, whether divorce, retirement, or relocation, how will you maintain networks, find those you want to spend time with? Facebook is not a substitute for personal connection, the gift of touch, a smile, a hug.
Lewis Walker, CFP®, is a financial life planning strategist at Capital Insight Group; 770-441-2603. Securities and advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA). Lewis Walker is a registered representative and investment adviser representative of SFA which is otherwise unaffiliated with Capital Insight Group. He is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and a Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA®).