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What to know about depression and divorce

What to know about depression and divorce

Reviewed by:
Brenda Camacho, MD
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May 26, 2024
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Divorce is way more than a legal termination of a marriage. It’s a stressful, emotional life event that can result in upheaval in all aspects of your life. Unfortunately, this can cause your mental health to take a hit. Divorce has the potential to cause depression since the end of a marriage can trigger major feelings of sadness, grief, and more.

It’s important to address the emotional impact of divorce rather than trying to sweep difficult feelings under the rug. With self-care, coping skills, and professional help, you can heal from depression related to your divorce.  

Read on to learn more about the link between divorce and depression, symptoms of depression, coping strategies, and more.

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Does divorce cause depression?  

There’s an undeniable link between divorce and mental health that’s been documented by researchers over the years. Various studies suggest that divorce increases a person’s risk of depression, anxiety, and even substance misuse.  

Divorce can lead to first-time depression or worsen existing depression for multiple reasons. Here’s a few reasons why.

  • Stress: Experiencing any stressful life event is a risk factor for depression. If you’ve gone through a major stressful event, you’re up to 9.4 times more likely to develop depression.  
  • Loss of identity: Divorce may come along with you feeling like you’ve lost your identity. Many married people’s sense of self is deeply intertwined with their partner’s, and without a spouse, you might be confused about who you truly are as an individual. This loss of identity as a married person may lead to feelings of worthlessness or feeling like you’re not good enough.  
  • Loneliness: It’s a big difference to go from living with one person by your side daily to being alone. Plus, if your social life was connected with your spouse’s social life, you might lose out on those mutual friendships and events you used to attend. Relationships with in-laws and family may also be strained. Loneliness is a well-documented risk factor for depression.  
  • Financial difficulties: Divorce is expensive. Legal fees, alimony, and property division can all put a huge strain on your finances. Plus, the transition from a dual-income to a single-income household is a major transition that can certainly make it harder to pay the bills. Financial stress has been commonly associated with depression.  
  • New family dynamics: If you have children, there will be significant changes in your life. Dealing with custody battles, learning how to co-parent peacefully, and helping your children navigate this new normal takes a lot of work. Adjusting to new roles and dynamics can contribute to emotional strain.  
  • Guilt: You might experience guilt during or after a divorce for numerous reasons. For example, you might feel guilty for the end of your marriage, wondering if you could’ve done something differently to prevent it. Or, if you have kids, you might feel guilty for the extra stress and changes you’re adding to their lives. Internalized guilt and complicated emotions can weigh heavy on you.  
    All of these factors combined can cause your mental health to decline, resulting in new or worsening depression.  

How to recognize post-divorce depression

Depression manifests differently for everyone, but there are some general signs of depression that you can look out for.

Depression symptoms you may experience during divorce include:

  • Feeling sad or empty
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling guilty, helpless, or worthless
  • Thinking pessimistically
  • Anger, frustration, and irritability
  • Lacking energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia, oversleeping, difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite (loss of appetite or increased appetite)
  • Changes to weight (losing weight or gaining weight)
  • Unexplained physical aches and pains
  • Ignoring responsibilities
  • Withdrawing and isolating from friends or family
  • Using alcohol or drugs more than usual
  • Losing interest in sex or having sexual dysfunction  
  • Thinking about death
  • Suicidal thoughts  

Can depression lead to divorce?

In addition to how divorce can sometimes lead to depression, there’s also some evidence that points towards depression contributing to divorce. A large survey over 10 years found that people with mental health conditions––including depression––are more likely to have a marriage that ends. However, this doesn’t mean that depression was the sole cause of the split.

But, why is depression a potential contributing factor to divorce? Depression can lead to various interpersonal problems, like making you want to isolate or withdraw, which can create distance between you and your partner. Or, irritability, anger, and frustration can cause everyday arguments to become larger conflicts. Some research also shows depression is linked to less satisfaction in marriage.  

If you’re currently married and struggling with depression it doesn’t necessarily mean divorce is in your future. But you also shouldn’t wait to seek help from a mental health professional. They can help you manage your symptoms and learn strategies such as healthy communication and conflict resolution skills to carry into your marriage.  

6 coping strategies for divorce-related depression

Self-care is crucial during and after a divorce. There are many things you can do to improve your mental health when you take the time to invest in your wellness. Here are six practical tips for coping with depression during divorce.  

1. Don’t neglect the health basics  

During major life transitions and stressful times, it’s easy to let your health fall behind. However, it’s crucial to take care of your physical health during this time. Your physical and mental health are closely interconnected, and staying healthy can help your mental wellness, too.  

Here are a few basic physical health self-care tips that pack a big punch:

  • Get enough sleep: If you’re sleep-deprived, this can worsen depression and anxiety. Try to clock at least seven hours of shut-eye each night.  
  • Exercise: Physical activity releases feel-good hormones that boost your mood and reduce stress. Try to get in some movement every day, even if it’s just walking around the block.
  • Eat healthy: Eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet to give your body and brain the nourishment they need to function optimally.  

2. Lean on your loved ones

It’s common to get lonely after a divorce. When you’re feeling down, resist the urge to withdraw and isolate. This can make your depression worse. Instead, open up to trusted family members or friends to vent and receive the emotional support you need. Surrounding yourself with  loved ones and having a support system will give you a much-needed sense of belonging, which can ease your loneliness.  

3. Join divorce support groups

In addition to being vulnerable with loved ones, it can help to connect with people in the same shoes as you in divorce support groups. These groups are a safe space for divorced people to open up about their experiences, get validation, and share advice. This sense of community will help you feel far less alone as you process your divorce. You can search online for divorce support groups in your area or inquire with local mental health clinics.  

4. Be kind to yourself

During this tumultuous time, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Practicing self-compassion can make a big difference as you navigate your new life. Tell yourself that it’s okay to feel difficult emotions as you undergo this major transition, and allow any and all feelings to pop up. Try not to judge yourself, and speak kindly to yourself as you would to a loved one who’s in the same situation.  

Be gentle with your self-talk, and do your best to be patient throughout the healing process. When you treat yourself with self-compassion, you can build resilience to deal with whatever comes your way during this trying time.  

5. Practice gratitude

When you’re dealing with many stressful, difficult circumstances in your life, it’s all too easy to get swept up in the negative and look at life through a pessimistic lens. By creating a gratitude practice, you’re taking time to intentionally remember the positive things.  

This isn’t toxic positivity, since you’re not ignoring the hardships. Acknowledge the fact that you’re going through a hard time, and then take time to write down some things you’re grateful for, no matter how small. Research shows that a gratitude practice can help improve mental health and result in fewer symptoms of depression.  

6. Explore what it means to be you

You may have lost one part of your identity in the divorce, but there’s so much more that makes you you. Use this as an opportunity to explore new and old hobbies and interests, whether that’s taking art classes, learning an instrument, or joining a sports league. You can also reconnect with old friends you’ve lost touch with, or set out to make new friends. Keeping busy and doing things that make you happy can be a saving grace during this time.  

When to get professional help

It’s important to recognize that self-help and coping strategies aren’t always enough for coping with mental health struggles like depression. If your symptoms have been ongoing for more than two weeks and they’re interfering with your day-to-day functioning and quality of life, it’s time to seek professional help.

Talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help you identify and challenge negative thought patterns and beliefs about yourself. Medications, such as antidepressants, can reduce depression symptoms and improve your mood. For many people, a combination of therapy and medication is most effective.  

If you’re having thoughts about self-harm or suicide, reach out for help immediately. Resources like the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline are available 24/7, 365 days a year.  You don’t have to go through this alone.  

Looking for a psychiatrist to help you with your depression? Consider Talkiatry. We’re a national psychiatry practice that treats a variety of mental health conditions. We provide virtual, in-network services so you can get the care you need from the comfort of your own home.  

To get started, complete our free online assessment to get matched with a psychiatrist and learn about your treatment options.

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

Brenda Camacho, MD

Dr. Brenda Y. Camacho holds the position of Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. She is board-certified in Adult Psychiatry. She has been practicing for over 25 years.

While having treated a wide range of adult patients, Dr. Camacho’s primary focus is treating adult outpatients with mood or psychotic disorders. Her practice focuses on medication management. Typically, she offers this in conjunction with supportive or insight-oriented therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. On occasion, Dr. Camacho will believe additional therapy is also needed and asks that you bring a therapist into your care team to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Camacho completed her undergraduate studies at Tufts University. She received her medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA and then continued with Temple for her residency in adult psychiatry. After completing training, Dr. Camacho worked at Cooper Hospital in Camden NJ as Associate Director of Consultation/Liaison Service and Psychiatry Residency Training and Co-Director of the Neuropsychiatry Clinic. She then began working exclusively in outpatient settings, joined NewPoint Behavioral Health Care, and served as Medical Director before and after their merge with Acenda Integrated Health.

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