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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
So, you’ve just gotten divorced. The barren landscape of a new apartment leaves a lot of space for self-reflection, even when it was the right choice to leave. Either way, there are plenty of reasons to have your feet up on a milk crate, googling “male depression after divorce” to see if you’re hitting the qualifications.
Depression after a relationship ends is fairly common. It’s one of the environmental causes of depression (like the grieving process for the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job) that can turn bad news into a longer-lasting mental health condition.
If you’re looking for answers, we’re here to help. We can walk you through how divorce can trigger depression, what treatment options may be available and what to keep in mind as you go through the process of moving on.
But before we jump into the worst of it, first we need to define what “it” is. Because depression in men after a divorce is fairly common. Just look at the numbers.
When a major change like a divorce happens, your risk of depression increases substantially, and if your emotional support net and your social circles have been reduced in the process, you’re left even more vulnerable.
One of the ways that divorce might trigger mental health issues in men is that men tend to let themselves go after a divorce in different ways.
Sure, everyone might eat poorly and drink a little more after a really messy separation, but experts point to statistics that show men are more likely than women to increase their alcohol and tobacco consumption or turn to other substances after divorce, and all of those activities are associated with an increased risk for depression.
You may already know why: partners tend to be a positive influence on lifestyle, forcing us to eat better, go to the doctor and protect ourselves against preventable diseases like cardiovascular issues. Without that partnership, men are more likely to fall into previous, unhealthy habits and patterns of behavior.
Another simple reason that divorce can trigger depression in men is the idea of emotional support. Men — and particularly straight men — tend to have smaller or sometimes nonexistent support systems outside of the home.
In short, they’re more likely to be lonely.
When a man gets divorced, they’re often left with a less-than-supportive social net, and stigma against asking for help may keep them from reaching out. Plus, if kids are involved in the divorce, statistics indicate that less than 20 percent of men are awarded custody, reducing the support system even more.
When divorce happens, that support from the partner (even if it was imperfect) goes away, and so might the family unit as a whole. And that can leave a gaping hole for mental illness to enter.
It’s absolutely the case that depression is more common in divorced men, and one of the places where that is most apparent is suicide rates. One study found that unmarried men between ages 40-60 were an astonishing three and a half times more likely than married men to die by suicide — the worst outcome for a depressive disorder.
Perhaps that’s why some resources say that if you’re experiencing depression while still in a relationship, you should avoid making major decisions like getting a divorce until you’ve already started treatment. It’s a smart way to look at the big picture: no major decisions until you have a better idea of the lay of your mental land.
There’s also another mental health condition that can occur after divorce: adjustment disorder.
Adjustment disorder isn’t something we know a lot about, but the short version is that it’s a sort of combination of a trauma response and a grief response —basically when you find it difficult to cope with a stressful life event — that comes after things like death, divorce or other major life changes and “new chapter” type events in our lives.
You could possibly have both depression and adjustment disorder— and potentially some other issues entirely, which may be uncovered as you begin managing your mental health better.
Speaking of mental health management, this is probably a good time for us to talk about ways to treat post-divorce depression. Experts typically point to three categories of depression treatment that are considered safe and effective for most people: medication, therapy and changes to your lifestyle. Let’s go through them.
We know you probably don’t love the idea of jumping on a new prescription the day after signing divorce papers, but you can look at pharmaceuticals as a kind of safety net for times where depression could be likely to arise (like when you get divorced).
They stop a process in your brain that can cause your supply of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that moderate your mood to become out of stock, so you have enough serotonin when you need it. This all leads to fewer extreme lows.
Therapy can be a revelatory experience when you’re trying to get perspective on your life, especially after a major shake-up like a divorce. It can help give you a new view of your situation, but it can also help you start to fix some of those self-defeating ways of thinking that may have even started before the divorce.
One great type of therapy for this is cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help you learn to control those unhealthy patterns of thought.
Lastly, you might consider looking into grief counseling, which can be a really effective way of dealing with adjustment disorder.
Certain lifestyle changes might affect your mental health the same way they affect your physical health. Your mental health can be improved with regular exercise, for instance. As little as 30 minutes a day of walking has been shown to boost mood.
Eating healthy and preventing weight fluctuations, setting and keeping a regular bedtime and making sure to socialize are all healthy behaviors that can reduce your risk of depression and help when you’re already in a depressive episode.
Likewise, you’ll want to avoid certain things — unhealthy foods, staying up late, being sedentary, excessive consumption of alcohol, the use of nicotine and drugs not prescribed to you.
After a divorce, you have a lot of problems to deal with. Money, living spaces, kids: it’s all more complicated, and because you’re down at least one supportive member of your inner circle, it can feel twice as crushing.
These are the moments when we often consider putting ourselves and our mental health on the back burner.
Don’t do it. Get treatment for any signs of depressive symptoms, because if you’re already seeing some, they’re only going to get worse without treatment.
Our mental health resources and health care providers can help you with depression and other mental health disorders like anxiety disorder, and our online therapy platform is a convenient way to get in touch with a therapy professional.
Whether we’re a part of your treatment journey for depression or not, take one final word of advice from us: problems with our mental health don’t go away when you ignore them. They go away when you confront them.
Start confronting yours with the help of mental health professionals today.