Jim Russell, of Tallahassee, encourages people to create art to combat mental health issues.
Leah Voss, firstname.lastname@example.org
Law enforcement is a calling. My wife has often told me that I’ll always be a cop, but as a recent retiree from 25 years on the job, I can tell you that things definitely change once you hang up the badge for good.
One of the really great things about being in law enforcement is that it affords many avenues to pursue things you care about in your community. My biggest interests were DUI prevention, bicycling safety and mental health awareness. I hope I was able to use my influence as deputy chief at the Florida State University Police Department to make a difference.
With my mental health advocacy, I was doing a lot of research, and found that among persons in close-knit work environments, suicide rates seemed to spike after retirement. That is, successful people who felt defined by their careers would be more apt to kill themselves upon leaving.
In his excellent book “Lonely at the Top,” author Thomas Joiner from FSU shows how people who based nearly their entire social status upon work can experience a devastating loss of personal value when their social network rapidly dissolves. Once important and powerful people, they now perceive themselves without purpose, lonely, depressed and feeling like a burden.
Add on pre-existing mental health conditions like PTSD — common in law enforcement — and the result can mean a spiral toward self harm and suicide.
With my retirement looming, I worked hard to redefine myself. For me, it meant rekindling my love of art and painting, and pulling my areas of advocacy under the art umbrella. It meant taking a proactive and deliberate role in reinventing who I was and what my social life would look like.
As expected, after I retired, things rapidly got quiet. I was no longer deputy chief of police. People at work continued with their work. They were busy, as they should be, and frankly, did not have the time or incentive to be checking on me.
I won’t lie. It was a hard pill to swallow. Fortunately, I was prepared to take this medicine.
I knew it was coming and knew the consequences of being unprepared. Having mental health issues myself, I knew it was imperative to have a social structure and new purpose lined up and ready to go.
I had done art all my life. Now with time on my hands and a pension in my pocket, I could dive in full throttle. I pulled my mental health advocacy into the subjects of my art and built a new social circle with other artists and people with similar interests.
It was vital that I do these things, because the alternative was — and is — living with an ever crumbling link to what is now history. Things change. People come and go. The world moves on. But I move with my own world, and I create an environment where I have a continued purpose.
I can’t allow change to assault my mental health. I know I am more vulnerable than many, and I cannot grow complacent in this fight.
So to those recently retired or about to retire: Plan now for your next step. You have the power to build a new social paradigm, so work diligently and with purpose to find your passions.
It can be a pretty nice view at the top.
Jim Russell recently retired from the FSU Police Department. See his paintings at JimRussellArt.com.
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