Is Depression Normal During a Divorce?

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Question:  I am going through a divorce from my husband and am having a hard time dealing with it emotionally.  It was a pretty bad marriage so I feel like I should be happy to be free of him, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  Is depression normal during a divorce?

Answer:   It is not unheard of for people to go through some degree of situational depression as they go through a divorce.  According to a 2013 report in Clinical Psychological Science, about 60 percent of people with a history of past depression experienced a depressive episode following their divorce.

  This was compared to about 10 percent of people who had no history of depression who also experienced a depressive episode upon dissolution of their marriage.  So, even those who are not normally prone to depression are potentially at risk.

The depression that people experience following a divorce can have a lot in common with grief, as they come to terms with what they have lost in the process of splitting up with their spouse, such as their dreams for the future, companionship, time with their children, financial support and relationships with friends and family.

Although there is no right or wrong way to work your way through grief, the following are some tips recommended by a divorce coach at Psych Central:

  1. Write a goodbye letter.  A goodbye letter should detail everything you are saying goodbye to as you leave the marriage, both positive and negative.  Doing this exercise can help you take stock of just where you are and can be quite cathartic in that it helps you see just what you need to work on to get past your grief.
  1. Write a hello letter.  Writing a hello letter is an exercise in which you list all of the good things that have come into your life as a result of leaving your spouse.  A hello letter will help you keep your focus on the positives so that you don't get weighted down by the negatives.
  2. Pay attention to the conversation that you're having with yourself.  When going through a divorce, it's very easy to get in the habit of calling yourself some not-so-flattering names because you feel like you have failed at something very important to you.  Turn this around and begin speaking to yourself in a loving, supportive way.
  1. Get more human touch.  Touch is something we all need; but, with the loss of your spouse, you may no longer have an outlet for this.  Simple ways to fulfill this need can include treating yourself to a massage or manicure, hugging friends and family or simply hugging yourself.
  2. Imagine the two of you are meeting for lunch one year from today.  Get as detailed as possible with this exercise.  Think about where you'll be in your life, what you'll be doing and how you will be feeling.  This will help you get really focused on what you want to achieve in your life so you can start planning how you will move forward and be okay.

Finally, if it seems that you are getting stuck in your grief and you just can't move forward, consider the idea that you may be suffering from depression and could use some assistance from a mental health professional in order to recover.

Sources:

Gadoua, Susan Pease.  "How Long Does 'Typical' Divorce Recovery Take?"  Psychology Today.  Sussex Publishers, LLC.  Published:  April 18, 2010.  Accessed:  August 28, 2015.

Sbarra, David A., Robert E. Emery, Christopher R. Beam and Bailey L. Ocker.  "Marital Dissolution and Major Depression in Midlife:  A Propensity Score Analysis."  Clinical Psychological Science.  2.3 (May 2014):  249-257.

Warner, Debra, MS, MFT..  "7 Steps to Overcome Your Divorce."  This Emotional Life.  Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Accessed:  August 28, 2015.

Your Tango Experts.  "How To Deal With Depression After Divorce: 5 Actionable Tips."  Psych Central.  Psych Central.  Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on June 25, 2014.  Accessed:  August 28. 2015.

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