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Divorce and depression: are you at risk?

Although divorce and depression are sometimes seen as going hand in hand, a new study has concluded that the risk is relatively small for people who have not experienced depression in the past.

The research, Marital Dissolution and Major Depression in Midlife, has been published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal. It examines the link between divorce and previous depressive episodes.

The authors found that only 10 per cent of people without a history of depression experienced depression after a divorce. In contrast, nearly 60 per cent of those with a history of depression reported depressive episodes post-divorce.

The research drew upon data from Midlife In The United States (MIDUS), a national study of more than 7,000 Americans aged 25-74.

Lead researcher David Sbarra, of the University of Arizona, said that the results had surprised his team.

“These findings are very important because they affirm the basic notion that most people are resilient in the face of divorce and that we do not see severe disorder among people without a history of a past depressive illness,” he noted. “If you’ve never experienced a significant depression in your life and you experience a separation or divorce, your odds for becoming depressed in the future are not that large at all.”

The researchers have speculated that people with a history of depression have a limited capacity to cope with the demands of the transition out of marriage, but they have emphasised that further study is required.

“Do these people blame themselves for the divorce? Do they ruminate more about the separation? Are they involved in a particularly acrimonious separation? These questions deserve much greater attention,” said Sbarra.

In the meantime, the authors hope that their study will have clinical implications.

“It is very important for clinicians to know that a person’s history of depression is directly related to whether or not they will experience a depressive episode following the end of marriage,” Sbarra said. “People with a history of depression who become divorced deserve special attention for support and counseling services.”

I have previously written about the turmoil of divorce, which can continue long after the divorce process itself has been finalised. There are no easy answers. Time is a healer, but there is no need to act out a life beneath a black cloud. We go to the doctor for physical complaints and mental health is just another problem. Don’t ever be afraid to get help and undertake a course of anti-depressants, counselling or therapy if prescribed. Opening up – letting out the grief and talking honestly – can only help.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Tulsa Divorce Lawyer Matt Ingham says:

    Divorce is a ‘loss’ and naturally when experiences a ‘loss’ they can be certain that a depressed mood will follow.

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