How does divorce affect mental health?
Anyone who’s experienced 'grief’ will understand the impact it can have on your mental health and well-being. Divorce impacts mental health and separation are similar to grief and have their own emotional journey.
As with divorce, like loss and grief, represents a significant change. If you’re going through a separation, learning how divorce affects mental health and how to deal with it in a healthy way is an important first step.
How does divorce affect your mental health?
There are a few ways divorce can impact your mental health, and consequences, such as self-esteem and isolation, can also have an impact on your well-being.
- Depression - some people experience depression during and after a divorce or separation
- Divorce anxiety (link to blog)
- Difficulties sleeping
- Struggle with concentration and making decisions
- Decreased or impacted appetite
- The use of harmful coping mechanisms such as drinking or substance abuse can impact your mental health
Other factors which can impact your mental health during a divorce or separation:
- Impacted self-esteem, self-worth and body-image-related issues
- Social isolation
- Financial stress
- Worrying about your children or their mental health
A less well-known factor is how long it can take to emotionally recover. Stats show that it can take up to two years to get over a divorce.
Divorcing is often referred to as the second most traumatic life experience after the death of a loved one. It makes sense to take care of yourself during this time. Your mental health is important, and you can only protect your family’s well-being if you are well yourself.
Our diagram shows the journey people go through when a major life change happens.
At the start of the process, you're likely to experience raw emotions such as shock, denial and anger. You may also experience sadness and depression as you move along the healing curve.
Separation is not only a change for the couple but also for others in their immediate social circles such as their family and friends.
How divorce affects mental health will differ from person to person. But there are common themes which crop up through how people react initially, to positive and negative ways they deal with it.
4 Tips to help your mental health during a divorce:
Here are some amicable tips on how to mentally prepare for divorce and how to prevent the negative impact on your mental health:
1. Don’t rush into divorce and don’t rush your partner
Take a moment to plot where you are on the chart below. As a general rule, the ‘initiator’ of the divorce is usually further along this curve. Progressing too fast usually ends in conflict and can feel frustrating if you’re the one further along this change curve.
2. Find help
If you feel low or you think you might be depressed and in need of professional help be assured that there is so much out there to help you.
- Visit your GP – cognitive behavioural therapy is a drug-free option that you’ll likely be offered
- Try counselling – this website will help you find local counsellors in your local area
- Get help online – you can also get help from online therapists or from online forums who have people just like you trying to navigate the emotional journey
3. Help raise awareness
There are still taboos around divorce and separation that lead people to feel ashamed about the breakdown of the marriage. How you perceive the process changes how divorce affects mental health overall. Whatever you do, don’t be hard on yourself or bottle things up. Divorce is a sad thing, not a bad thing. Speaking up about how you feel is not only good for your mental health but will also give strength to others who are going through the same thing.
4. Take care of yourself physically
Divorce can be a stressful, uncertain time so distracting yourself by doing positive things for your body and mind will help reduce the negative impact stress can have. It’s very easy to distract yourself with alcohol, food, staying out late etc. But the key is to do it in moderation and not let it become something you depend on to get you through the emotional side of divorce.
A study from the University of Chicago and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that people who divorce are 20% more likely to suffer from conditions such as heart disease or other chronic health issues. Taking care of the body can, a lot of the time, enable you to focus on your emotional well-being and in turn, you feel better overall and more optimistic.
Remember, when you’re very stressed, you’re more likely to make rash decisions. So, focus on this as an incentive to moderate your blowouts and focus on your health.
Association between divorce and risks for acute myocardial infarction. Circulation. Cardiovascular quality and outcomes (2015) Dupre, M. E., 244–251. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.114.001291
Divorce undermines health in ways remarriage doesn’t heal (2009) ScienceDaily. Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090727135523.htm
Change, loss and bereavement, Mental Health Foundation. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/articles/change-loss-bereavement.
How divorce affects mental health will differ person to person. But there are common themes which crop up through how people react initially to positive and negative ways they deal with it.
Listen to this episode of The Divorce Podcast where Kate Daly - Co-founder of amicable and host of The Divorce Podcast - is joined by mental health expert Petra Velzeboer and HR specialist Gareth Jones to discuss divorce, mental health and how to support your colleagues.
How long does it take to mentally recover from a divorce?
It can take up to two years to mentally recover from a divorce or separation. For some people, it can take much longer though. Especially if the divorce or separation was a very traumatic or acrimonious experience.
Can divorce cause mental illness?
Divorce itself is not a direct cause of mental illness, but it can be a significant stressor and trigger for mental health issues in some individuals.
What is the hardest stage of divorce?
The hardest stage of a divorce can vary from person to person, as it depends on individual circumstances and emotions. However, it is often the initial acceptance of the reality of the situation and learning how to mentally prepare for divorce and the change that will occur from it.
Does divorce pain ever go away?
Yes, although it might take a while. The best initial advice is to take everything one step at a time and seek professional help if you are struggling.