Reviewed by Mary Lucas, MSCIS, MPhil, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Going through a divorce can be a stressful, challenging experience that can take a serious toll on your mental health, even if it might be the right decision for your long-term wellbeing.
Research has found that divorce and separation are associated with increases in mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. In other words, your risk for depression is elevated.
Other studies have found that people who are already affected by mental health issues such as depression may have an elevated risk of going through a divorce.
If you’re feeling depressed after getting divorced or during the process of ending your marriage, it’s important to know that options are available for you.
In fact, with the right approach, it’s very possible to overcome divorce depression and enjoy life once again.
Below, we’ve explained what divorce depression is, how it may develop and the symptoms you might experience if you’re feeling depressed during or following a divorce.
We’ve also discussed the treatment options that are available to help you successfully deal with your symptoms and adjust to post-divorce life.
Open a mental health textbook and you’ll find chapters devoted to several types of depressive disorders, from major depression to chronic depression, adolescent depression and conditions such as seasonal affective disorder.
Divorce depression, or post-divorce depression, isn’t a formal diagnosis that’s used by mental health professionals.
Instead, depression that develops during or following a divorce is usually viewed as a type of adjustment disorder.
Adjustment disorders are groups of symptoms that begin to develop during or after a stressful event in your life.
People often develop adjustment disorders after losing a loved one, moving to a new, unfamiliar location, suffering an illness or dealing with a financial setback.
While it may not be characterized as an official form of depression on it’s own, the effects of depression following a divorce are still very real.
Divorce and other relationship issues are common sources of stress and causes of adjustment disorders.
The symptoms of adjustment disorders can vary. Some people develop anxiety symptoms, such as nervousness or worry.
Others experience depressive symptoms, such as a depressed mood and feelings of hopelessness.
When an adjustment disorder involves depression symptoms, it’s often referred to as situational depression.
Although many cases of divorce depression are situational, the stress and life changes involved in getting divorced could also potentially act as a trigger for major depressive disorder (MDD, or clinical depression).
Depression that occurs during or after a divorce can involve a range of symptoms, from empty, sad or hopeless moods to changes in the way you think, behave and manage some aspects of your life.
When divorce depression is caused by an adjustment disorder, it may involve one or several of the following symptoms:
Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
Withdrawing from friends, family members and other people
Crying and other signs of a poor, empty mood
Trembling, twitching and impulsive behavior
Signs of nervousness or feeling tense
When the stress of going through a divorce contributes to major depressive disorder, it can lead to a range of severe symptoms, including the following:
A hopeless or pessimistic outlook on life
Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness or anxiety
Reduced interest in your hobbies and passions
A sense that you’re guilty, worthless or that you can’t be helped
Difficulty focusing on specific tasks or remembering information
A reduced ability to make decisions
Changes in your appetite and/or bodyweight
Cramps, aches, headaches and other unexplained forms of pain and discomfort
Sleep issues, such as insomnia (difficulty sleeping) or hypersomnia (oversleeping)
Suicidal thoughts and/or behavior
In order to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, at least some of these symptoms need to occur on a daily or near-daily basis for a period of at least two weeks.
In addition to divorce, other factors that can play a role in the development of depression include your genes, environment and general psychological wellbeing.
You may have a higher risk of becoming depressed if you have a family history of depression, if you undergo other major life changes at the same time as your divorce, or if you have a physical illness such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.
Some medications, including those prescribed to treat the conditions above, may also contribute to the development of depression.
Our guide to the most common causes of depression discusses these depression risk factors in more detail.
If you’re feeling depression after divorce (or even during or leading up to one), one of the best things that you can do is to talk to a mental health provider.
You can seek professional help for depression by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral, by meeting with a psychiatrist or psychologist in your local area, or by connecting with a licensed psychiatry provider from home using our online psychiatry services.
It’s especially important to reach out for professional help if you have severe symptoms that are interfering with your daily life.
Your mental health provider may recommend using medication, taking part in psychotherapy or making changes to your habits and lifestyle to deal with your depression.
Depression is often treated with medications called antidepressants. These work by increasing your levels of natural chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are involved in managing your moods and feelings.
Several types of antidepressants are used for depression, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and older medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).
Antidepressants are effective for many people with depression, but they can take several weeks to start working.
You may notice that your sleep habits, appetite and ability to concentrate start to improve before your moods and feelings.
Our list of antidepressants provides more information about these medications and how they’re used to treat depression.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is one of the most effective forms of treatment for depression, as well as other mental illnesses.
Several forms of therapy are used to treat depression, including the depression that develops in the wake of divorce.
These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), problem-solving therapy and interpersonal therapy (IPT).
As part of therapy, you’ll learn new strategies for dealing with the thoughts and feelings that can contribute to your depression.
Our guide to therapy for depression discusses more about the benefits of therapy, as well as the specific types of therapy used to treat depression.
While healthy habits and lifestyle changes may not be enough to treat depression on their own, they can have a positive impact on your mood and help as you recover.
Try the following habits and lifestyle changes to manage your divorce depression:
Keep yourself physically active. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which are natural chemicals that can improve your mood. It’s also linked to improvements in the function of your brain that may reduce the severity of symptoms of depression.
Spend time with friends and family. Instead of isolating yourself, try to spend time with your close friends and family members. Not only can these people distract you from your symptoms of depression — they’re also important sources of support.
Make sure to get enough sleep. Depression and sleep difficulties often develop at the same time. Try to follow the CDC’s recommendations and get seven or more hours of sleep per night.
Avoid making major life decisions. Ending a marriage can be a stressful process that affects your judgment. Try to wait until you’re feeling better before making any major life decisions, such as changing careers or starting a new romantic relationship.
Focus on making gradual progress. Most depression symptoms steadily improve with time, not overnight. Focus on making gradual progress and pay attention to the changes you experience over the course of several weeks, not on a daily basis.
Going through a divorce can be an emotional rollercoaster. If you feel depressed after your divorce, you’re not alone.
With the right approach, you can get through divorce depression and enjoy a happy, fulfilling life once again.
Remember that other people have faced the same feelings before. With time, they’ve been able to process their feelings and successfully bounce back after divorce.
If you feel like you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out to a trusted friend or family member to talk about how you’re feeling.
You can also access professional help from home using our online mental health services and care.
ENTER CITED SOURCES