I'm worried about someone who's retired.

Some people find the transition to retirement hard to take. You can help your father or mother, a friend or neighbour to feel significantly better by talking to them. These conversation tips will help.

Many people find retirement to be a watershed event that sooner or later triggers strong feelings. Those affected may become lethargic because they feel lonely or frustrated, because they are less mobile or they miss being needed. Some of them, who can't overcome these feelings on their own, need help.

If you have you noticed that for several weeks or months your father or mother, a friend or someone from the neighbourhood:

  • has retreated into their shell and no longer gets in touch
  • seems to have let themselves go
  • is unusually irritable
  • somehow gives the impression of having changed or being sad

Then it is time to take action

Talking helps

The first step towards alleviating anxieties and negative feelings is to talk about them. By raising your concerns with them, you will help to prevent a crisis from turning into a mental illness.

Talking reduces stress and gives us strength

Talking alone won't make anyone's problems go away You shouldn't expect everything to change right after your conversation. However, having someone who listens and is interested and sympathetic brings relief and hope. It does you good.

You don't need to solve the problems

Anxiety about having to solve the problems they bring up puts many people off having a conversation. However, it would never occur to you to remove someone's inflamed appendix – and you're not expected to make anybody's loneliness or chronic pain go away. Your sympathetic ear and your interest give the help that's needed.

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«Ask them if they are okay. It could be that you are the only person.»

A bunch of experiences in all ages.

Start a conversation

Consider your own mood

Don't try to start the conversation unless you're feeling at ease and confident.

Pick a suitable time

An in-depth conversation takes time, so don't start it if either of you has to be somewhere in ten minutes' time. Sometimes it helps to ask when the person has time for a conversation.

I'd like to have a quiet word with you. When would be a good time?

Find a suitable place

where you won't be disturbed and you both feel at ease. Many people find it easier to talk about difficult things while walking, A stroll in the woods or as far as the nearest park bench may be a good opportunity.

Shall we go for a stroll, or would you prefer us just to have a coffee together?

It's OK if it doesn't work

The other person may well not respond to your invitation to talk. Don't take it personally. They may not be in the mood, or perhaps they need to pluck up courage. Try again later.

Yes, I understand. Would some other time suit you better?

Or you can ask for advice on the best way forward. Here are a few suitable addresses and services.

The conversation

You might start like this:

I'm worried about you. You've been a bit lethargic lately.

I'm concerned that we're no longer in touch / you don't come to our get-togethers anymore. Are things not going well for you?

You'll be retiring soon, won't you? / You recently retired, didn't you? How are you finding it?

Listening is what matters most

Many people are afraid of not being able to find the right words. But this underestimates the benefits of simply having somebody sympathetic to talk to. Your starting point for the conversation should be that you want to understand what the other person is feeling. Think up good questions rather than looking for answers.

Can you tell me what you look forward to each day?

How does it feel not to have to go to work / to be on your own more?

How do your days look at the moment?

Show sympathy

It feels good to be understood. You might express sympathy by saying:

I can understand what a strain that is.

I'm sorry things are going so badly for you.

Silences are not a problem

Everybody sometimes has trouble finding words when talking about difficult situations. Don't be in a hurry to end pauses and silences. To get the conversation going again, it sometimes helps to say:

At the moment I don't know what to say either.

Know your own limitations

If you form the impression that the other person needs more help, you might say:

I don't know how we can move on with this either.

Have you thought of talking to a specialist?

Here are a few suitable addresses and services. That isn't always necessary, though.

Don't offer to give more help unless you want to provide it

Your attention and readiness to listen are a great help to the other person. If that's as far as it goes, that's OK too. If you feel like it, you can give practical help – like running an errand, getting them together with other people or accompanying them to an appointment. Or you could just stick to listening:

You can certainly talk to me about it again if you like.

You should avoid

Don't play the blame game

Remarks like «What a fuss about nothing, haven't you ever been on your own before?» or «You really ought to have made better preparations for retirement» are never helpful. Mental illnesses are never a matter of willpower.

No advice or hints

We have a tendency always to want to offer solutions. Remarks like «You really ought to get out more» make sufferers feel under pressure, or feel that they haven't been listened to properly. Listen carefully. If the other person specifically asks what you would advise, you can refer to the inputs for mental health that you think suitable.

Don't talk about your own problems

Sometimes, with the best of intentions – to show understanding and sympathy – we talk about our own problems. This makes the other person feel you're not taking them seriously. If you are retired yourself, you can share your experiences.

Don't deliver any diagnoses

Even if you suspect the other person is suffering from a specific illness, leave diagnosis to a specialist – otherwise the other person will feel that you've pinned a label on him.

No belittlement

Don't say «Everything will be fine again soon» or «This will pass». Remarks like this make sufferers feel that they're not being taken seriously.

Don't put the other person under pressure.

You should go into the conversation with the attitude that you only want to know what the other person wants to tell you. If the other person breaks off the conversation, don't try to prolong it. You can try again another time.

End a conversation

Sometimes the conversation can just all get too much. These words will help you to find a good way to end it.

I don't think we're getting anywhere at the moment. Is it OK with you if we talk about something else?

I'm very sad about your situation. I need some fresh air – can we talk about it again some other time?

I don't know what to say. Shall we walk a little further together? We can talk more about it another time.

After the conversation

Whatever you hear, keep it to yourself

If private matters came up in the conversation, keep them to yourself. If you need to talk to somebody else about them, don't name names. If you feel that outside help is required, though – if somebody is suicidal, for example – then you should call 143 and talk to Die Dargebotene Hand / La Main Tendue, which also advises those who are close to people in crisis.

Make sure you're all right

It will do nobody any good if you fall ill yourself. Take time for your own needs and interests.