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Can Depression Cause Divorce?

1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem each year, and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, in any given week.

Being in a happy, stable relationship positively impacts on the mental health of the couple, but poor marriages and relationships can increase risks of depression and anxiety, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

May hosts Mental Health Awareness Week, so this blog explores how mental health affects marriage, and whether depression can lead to divorce.

How does mental illness affect your relationship?

For many people, having poor mental health can hugely affect their relationship. However, the condition itself does not directly lead to relationship breakdown. This is more a result of not addressing the problem and seeking the right help and support, whether you are the person struggling, or their partner.

Depression can lead to other problems, which can all take their toll on a relationship, building tension between a couple and possibly leading to a breakup if they are not dealt with.

For example, poor mental health might impact an individual’s ability to go to work and earn money. It might also mean that they struggle to take care of themselves, the home, and any children.

This is tough on the mentally unwell person, and for their spouse, can be hard to watch. It can be difficult for the mentally well partner to take on the additional responsibilities that used to be shared equally, as well as taking care of their partner.

Separating the mental health problems from the relationship

It is important to remember that the mentally unwell person is not defined by their illness, and that this is separate to your relationship.

Communication is important here. You might be able to come up with your own language and terms to help each other understand how you’re feeling and what you need from each other when one or both of you are feeling particularly unwell.

For example, instead of using language that could be interpreted as blaming the other person, like ‘Leave me alone’, you could come up with a safe word which means you need time to yourself, or extra care.

Relationships take management and discipline, which can be hard to achieve when one or both of you are struggling. But taking the opportunities to really communicate and figure out techniques that work for you can be helpful.

Am I selfish because I want to divorce my partner who has a mental health problem?

This can be a very complicated area, and it is natural to feel a lot of different emotions. You might feel guilty at wanting to leave your relationship or worried about what might happen to your partner if you do.

On the other hand, you might feel frustrated, angry, and like you don’t know your spouse anymore, or how best to help them.

The first thing to remember is that your partner’s illness is not your fault, neither is it theirs! Mental health problems affect so many of us, and there is not always rhyme or reason to it. Whilst this is out of your control, how you respond is within your control.

Saying this, it is not selfish to leave an unhappy marriage or to put your future wellbeing and happiness first.

Can a marriage survive mental illness?

Yes, absolutely. Many mental health conditions can be treated with the right support, or managed so that the person and their partner can enjoy a healthy marriage and a happy life.

Some relationships will be able to work through the difficulties that often come when one or both partners suffer with a mental illness. This can be done through understanding the illness through research and open mindedness, maintaining clear communication where possible, seeking professional help for both the sufferer and the partner.

You may also be able to seek therapy or relationship counselling to work through any difficulties with an expert together.

However, some relationships may not be able to work through or with the mental illness. Relationships should be built on mutual respect and love, but if this has become entirely one sided, resentment will likely build.

Ultimately it is important to prioritise your own safety and wellbeing. If you are being physically or emotionally abused, it might be time to seek help and reassess the health of your relationship.

If your partner refuses to seek treatment even though their illness is having an impact on not just your marriage, but all their relationships with family and friends, and their lifestyle, then it might be that you have done as much as possible, and it is time to end the marriage or relationship.

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call the police on 999 or the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

What happens next?

Nicola Beasley, Senior Associate at Stowe, discusses what you need to think about if you want to separate from your spouse.

If you have decided to get divorced, it is a good idea to speak to an expert family lawyer who can advise you best on your next steps. You should seek a solicitor who has experience dealing with cases involving mental health.

There may be some legal factors to consider when it comes to your spouse’s capacity, and what they might be entitled to if their illness has affected their ability to work or take care of children.

If your spouse may lack capacity, it is important to address that at the outset before any substantive steps are taken. If progression was made and it was later found that one of the parties lacked capacity, it is likely any progress/order would be void and the progress would have to start again, which is not only a costly process but also incredibly stressful for all involved.

You may also need to think about the wellbeing and safety of any children, in the event that your spouse might be having difficulties, or potentially lack capacity to care for them or keep them safe, and what steps may need to be taken to safeguard them.

We have expert family lawyers who can guide you and support you through this process.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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As the UK's largest family law firm we understand that every case is personal.

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