Divorce And Depression: Coping Skills To Make It Through

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you been experiencing symptoms of depression or other mental health challenges while going through a divorce? If so, you’re not alone. Depression after divorce is common, even among those who ended the relationship willingly. However, this difficult time of adjustment doesn’t typically last forever, and you don’t have to face it on your own. Below, we’ll discuss depression in the context of divorce, common symptoms, and effective treatments for depression.

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Struggling with symptoms of depression after a divorce?

Depression after a divorce

An individual who develops depression after divorce is normally diagnosed with something known as situational depression, also known as adjustment disorder. This is somewhat different from clinical depression or major depressive disorder, which can occur for a number of reasons. If someone already has clinical depression when they get divorced, their symptoms may worsen. Additionally, if situational depression goes untreated or doesn’t improve, it can turn into a major depressive disorder with time.

Although post-divorce depression is not necessarily the same as clinical depression, it can still have many of the same features. It can be difficult to distinguish whether symptoms are part of clinical or situational depression. If you have never had depression before, your doctor may treat it as an adjustment disorder. If symptoms do not improve over time, they might consider a clinical depression diagnosis.

Divorce depression symptoms

The symptoms of depression after divorce can be similar to symptoms of clinical depression. The characteristics of situational depression can include the following:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Difficulty sleeping/insomnia (sleeping too much is also possible)
  • Irritability or anger
  • Fatigue
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Problems concentrating or focusing
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and pessimism
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts*

*If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7. An online chat features is also available on the lifeline’s website.

In addition to these common symptoms of depression, divorced individuals with adjustment disorder or depression may also be likely to exhibit certain behaviors. These may include not fulfilling responsibilities, avoiding social engagements, arguing, and not performing well at work.

After a divorce, it can also be common to have feelings of guilt, anger, and frustration toward yourself or your former partner. Nonetheless, it may help to set healthy boundaries with your ex-spouse, no matter the circumstances of your married life.

If you notice that you have begun to completely cut yourself off from everyone around you and stay indoors most of the time for more than two weeks, it could be a sign that you are experiencing depression. If it has become difficult for you to cope with the stress of the divorce process and it has greatly affected the quality of your daily life, you may benefit from speaking with a licensed counselor.

Treatment for depression

Treatment for situational depression is similar to treatment for clinical depression, with one important difference. With clinical depression, medication is generally prescribed and is often combined with therapy. On the other hand, situational depression, such as post-divorce depression, typically emphasizes psychotherapy or talk therapy and uses medication to control symptoms only when they are severe or prolonged.

Psychotherapy

There are many types of psychotherapy that can be used to treat situational depression. The most common form of therapy used for this type of depression is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, a therapist may help you identify unhelpful thoughts and learn to control your thoughts and behaviors. Your therapist can be there to support you at the start of your healing process and help you take steps toward adjustment.

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Medications

There are two types of medications sometimes used for situational depression: selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and dopamine reuptake blockers. Your doctor will likely only prescribe antidepressants if your symptoms are severe, if you are at risk of suicide, or if your symptoms are prolonged. You and your doctor can carefully monitor your symptoms so that medication can be decreased after the adjustment period is over.

It’s recommended that you not stop taking medication without first talking to your doctor. Even if you are feeling better and don't think they are necessary, consider waiting for instructions from your doctor before stopping the medication. SSRI withdrawal can be challenging and even painful. You may have to stop the medication gradually.

Other ways to cope with depression after divorce

While being treated by a doctor or therapist, it can also be beneficial to learn some coping skills to help you through this difficult time. It can be important that you take time for yourself and ensure your needs are being met. Here are some things you can do to build effective habits to help you cope with depression after divorce.

Write in a journal

Research suggests that journaling can be effective for relieving depression symptoms. You may have a lot of thoughts and feelings about your marriage, your divorce, and life going forward. As you go through this process, it might be productive to write down your thoughts and emotions in a journal. Even if you have a solid support system, like family, friends, or divorce support groups, journaling may help you to express yourself without a filter. 

Another potential advantage of journaling is that you may be able to see how far you've come. It may be a meaningful journey to rediscover your sense of self after a divorce. Further down the road, during times when everything seems hopeless, you can go back and see what you have accomplished in personal growth.

Take care of your body 

Exercise

Research has found that exercise leads to the release of endorphins, which can relieve symptoms of depression. You can choose from a number of activities, such as walking, lifting weights, doing aerobics, joining a sports team, or dancing around the house. Doing physical activity on a regular basis can give you a sense of accomplishment and thus help boost your mood, not to mention contribute to positive physical and mental health effects.

Eat nutritious foods

It can also be important to eat as healthily as possible. When a person is depressed, it is common to crave "comfort foods," many of which are high in fat and sugar. However, eating these types of foods may drag you down and ultimately make your depression symptoms worse. You could also gain weight, further impacting your mood. You might try to limit alcohol use and keep healthy snacks around. If you have to go out of your way to eat comfort food, you may be less likely to indulge in it.

Prioritize sleep

Research shows that about . It can be important to address sleep difficulties as they can be a contributing factor in worsening depression symptoms. Lifestyle approaches, such as relaxation techniques done prior to bedtime and adherence to a sleep schedule, are recommended by the American Psychiatric Association. Making efforts to improve your sleep hygiene can improve both your mental health and your overall well-being.

Take time for yourself

In the wake of a divorce, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. It may help to take some time out for yourself every day, even if it is as simple as listening to music for half an hour. When feelings of sadness hit you, you might try massage therapy or other relaxation techniques, such as meditation and aroma therapy. This may seem difficult at first, especially if you have children to care for, but it may help keep you healthy as you go through this adjustment period during the divorce process.

Ask for help

The emotional strain of a divorce may make you feel more fatigued. During this time, consider letting people help you with pre-made meals or extra babysitting. When you are feeling better, you can return the favor. It can be important to be surrounded by people who can take care of you and support you emotionally through this difficult time in your life. Consider building a support network around you that allows you to get the help you need when you need it.

Get out of the house

While therapy may help you develop more effective ways of coping while going through a divorce, treatment for people with depression often takes a multifaceted approach. Recent research emphasizes a solid support network, usually from friends and family or from social support groups, such as divorce support groups. When you are depressed, you may not want to socialize. However, it can be important that you continue to get out and see people during this time. Getting out of the house and around other people might help take your mind off what you are going through and give you a mental break. You may also enjoy a mood boost from socialization because of the sense of belonging it can provide.

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Struggling with symptoms of depression after a divorce?

Online therapy with BetterHelp

Coping with a divorce can be difficult whether it happened recently or years ago. Seeking support through therapy may help you develop new coping skills and begin to heal. If you are worried about incorporating regular in-person therapy appointments into your routine, there are other options. Online counseling platforms like BetterHelp can offer a convenient way to participate in therapy from the comfort of your home. Although depression can sometimes make it hard to leave the house, you can still receive mental health support from your couch, bed, or wherever feels comfortable. You can connect with a licensed, supportive therapist via phone, live chat, or videoconferencing at a time that works for you.

The efficacy of online therapy

Online therapy has been shown to be effective by numerous peer-reviewed studies. In a randomized controlled study of an online therapeutic intervention for divorced individuals, researchers found that participants experienced “significantly reduced anxious, depressive, and somatization symptoms.” These results were taken at one-year follow-up, and researchers found that their magnitude was large in effect size.

Takeaway

While a divorce may be the wisest option for a couple who cannot repair their relationship, this doesn’t necessarily make it any less difficult. Going through a divorce, especially without the right support, can lead to significant mental health challenges, including depression. If you’re experiencing depression following a divorce, you don’t have to face it alone. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping people with depression and other mental health challenges after a divorce. Take the first step toward healing from depression and contact BetterHelp today.
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