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01 May 2024

The link between divorce and depression

It is often said that the most stressful life events are death, divorce and moving house (in that order!)  Whilst the latest research would indicate other factors as significant life stressors, there is no doubt that the breakdown of a significant relationship or a divorce can have a significant impact of an individual’s mental wellbeing. There is evidently a link between divorce and depression.

Often in fairly short order it can seem that everything is changing and the breakdown of the relationship can have far reaching consequences that can result in depression, for example:-

  • Feelings of loss/ grief that the relationship has ended and that a trusted confidante is no longer available;
  • Fear for the future, particularly of being alone and concerns around mutual friendships continuing;
  • Anxiety about the practical impact of the relationship ending – concerns over financial stability, establishing a new home, affordability of lifestyle;
  • Concerns around the well-being of any children of the family – how will they adjust? Will their mental well-being be impacted?  Will private education remain affordable? What will the co-parenting relationship look like?

It is well documented that divorce can have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health and, if left unchecked this can result in depression.

How does divorce contribute to the onset of depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that causes symptoms that can affect how a person feels and thinks and impacts on their daily ability to go about life – for example it can affect sleep patterns, appetite and ability to go about normal life e.g. going to work or socialising.  The process of divorce disrupts the structure of normal life that a couple has cultivated over years of shared social and domestic life. This disruption can induce a profound sense of grief, loss, rejection, and depressive tendencies, leading to social isolation as social circles shift and relationships strain.  These feelings can contribute to a person developing depression.

Furthermore, the emotional toll of navigating the divorce process itself can exacerbate distress and lead to depression. For many, this may be the first time that they have had to engage the services of a lawyer and they may find this difficult to navigate. If a couple have children, then anxiety about their well-being and about future arrangements for their care may cause anxiety.  There may also be feelings of sadness not to be living together as a family unit or even disapproval from older family members.  It is inevitable that, for most, financial circumstances will take a downturn and this can be extremely worrying for many.  The accumulation of these stress inducing events resulting from a divorce can contribute to the onset of depression.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Typically, a depressed person will feel sad and anxious and those feelings will persist for a period of time…  Depression may cause them to feel hopeless and anxious about the future.  They will often experience a reduced appetite and may visibly lose weight in a short time frame.  Alternatively, they may turn to food or alcohol as a comfort and rapidly gain weight– all of which are common symptoms of depression…  Depressed people often experience sleep disruption – sleeping either too much or too little.  They will often lose interest in the things that would normally give them pleasure – socialising or hobbies may be put on the backburner.  At the more extreme end of the spectrum, they may engage in self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts as a result of their depression.

What steps can you take to help yourself through the divorce process?

Accepting from the outset that the divorce process will be challenging, there are multiple ways in which you can help yourself navigate the process:-

  • Seek support – whether from a professional therapist or counsellor, a family member or a team of friends, having someone to talk to about any symptoms of depression and the emotional fallout from the relationship ending can be a lifeline;
  • Be patient – many people want to rush through the divorce process as quickly as possible. However, there is one chance to get things right and it is better be thorough and considered than rush to agree a settlement that you later regret;
  • Self-help – Do your own research and be informed. When you attend a first meeting with your lawyer, it is hugely helpful if you have been able to set out in advance some background – a timeline of the relationship and a list of assets.  This will save you time and money in the long run.  It is also sensible to think in advance of what matters are of greatest importance to you and compile a list of questions to ask.
  • Self-care – Be gentle with yourself and prioritise your own health – physical and mental – throughout the process. Exercise, adequate sleep and healthy eating will mean that you are better placed to deal with the stress of divorce.  Meditation or mindfulness may be a useful habit to develop. These are useful methods to manage anxiety and stress healthily to avoid depressive behaviours and periods of depression;
  • Establish boundaries – For many, dealing directly with a former partner can be very difficult in the early stages after separation but there is likely to be a need to communicate, for example in relation to arrangements for children. You may choose to communicate via e-mail or even via a parenting app if direct communication is too daunting at first.

Allow us to assist you in managing your divorce:

Payne Hicks Beach is a full service law firm and we have many years of experience in guiding our clients through the divorce process.  In early 2024 we launched a campaign in which family lawyers (both from within our firm and from other firms) collaborated with psychologists, psychiatrists, academics and others to provide guidance for family lawyers on working with vulnerable clients who may be experiencing difficulties with their mental health.  Our research into this area has resulted in the preparation of a suite of documents that can be found on our website.  Of particular relevance to anyone who is going through a divorce and is feeling anxious or depressed we would recommend reading our “Vulnerable Clients Survival Guide” prepared by the Montrose Health Group which contains invaluable advice to anyone finding themselves navigating divorce.  Please click here to be taken to this resource.

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Kelly Gerrard
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