In our fast-paced, stress-filled world it seems more and more people are dealing with depression. If you or your partner struggles with depression, you know how it can take its toll on a marriage. If you’re contemplating separation or divorce, are in the midst of the process, or even if you’ve come out the other side of it already, you may be working through situational depression as part of the grieving process. 

Often when I first meet with a client for the first time, I notice signs of situational depression, whether or not they are the one who is seeking to file the Petition and start the process. While I am not a therapist but a lawyer, I am informed by the mental health professionals I work with in my collaborative practice group that situational depression is not the same as depressive disorder (sometimes called clinical depression, or simply depression). Understanding the difference is important—whether the depressed person is you, your spouse, or a child. 

Understanding Depression 

Depression is more than feeling sad. Depressive disorder—also referred to as chronic depression or clinical depression—is a serious mental health condition that requires understanding and often professional medical care. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in the year 2020 alone, 21 million U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode. That’s 8.4% of the population. If you or your partner are dealing with depression, you are most certainly not alone. 

Depression is different for every person, but typically several symptoms like these will last for at least two weeks (though some episodes last months or years): 

  • Changes in sleep or appetite 
  • Difficulty with focus or concentration 
  • Fatigue or loss of energy 
  • Lack of interest in things that usually give you pleasure 
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or despair 
  • Thoughts of suicide 

If you or your partner or any member of your family struggle with symptoms like these over a period of time, it may be advisable to seek professional support. Most people who experience one serious depressive episode will experience depression again in their lifetime, so knowing how to handle it when it occurs is important for the depressed individual and for those who care about them. 

Dealing with Depression During Divorce 

If you’re going through a separation or divorce, you are likely to experience a range of tough emotions, including sadness, anger, distrust, frustration, confusion, and many other emotions as part of the grieving process.  You may even feel them so deeply and for such an uncomfortably long period of time that you would characterize it as depression. Situational depression is depression that is connected to a specific circumstance, like loss of a job, a pet, a loved one, or a marriage. The good news is that situational depression from divorce is usually temporary, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. 

If you’re getting divorced and feeling depressed, there is no shame in reaching out for help. Consulting with your doctor, nurse practitioner, and a nutritional professional seem like a very good first step.   

Tips for Dealing with Depression During the Divorce Process 

Depression can definitely make navigating the divorce process more difficult. Some suggestions you might find useful in managing your depression include: 

  • Ask for help and accept help when offered to you. 
  • Eat healthy foods and exercise regularly, even if it is just a short walk around the block every day. 
  • Find solutions for healthy sleep patterns. (Some depressed individuals find they sleep too much.) 
  • Continue to socialize and do things you enjoy. (Be willing to ask a friend to help you get to events and gatherings.) 
  • Write in a journal. (Many find it helpful to start a “Gratitude Journal” listing at least 10 things per day they are grateful for and reading them over and over each week.)  
  • Find a place in nature to breathe in more fresh air. 
  • Consider Pilates or yoga classes, even if you have to do it online–ask a friend to join you. 
  • Give yourself permission to grieve. 

Important: Don’t let your depression panic you. If you’ve dealt with depression in the past, monitor your feelings carefully and get professional help if you need it, but don’t assume you’re in an inevitable downward spiral–or you may create a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

No-Court Divorce Options Make Managing Depression Easier 

I recently read an article that had mostly helpful tips for how to manage depression during a divorce. But I was shocked when I saw the last tip on the list: Don’t dwell on what you can’t control. While that IS good advice, it was bolstered by the claim that ultimately the judge will decide the outcome and determine who gets what and what is fair. I was so disappointed to read this! Fair in whose eyes? Fair only according to the judge who MUST apply the law. In case you haven’t heard this before, just like life, the law isn’t fair. 

The truth is there are ways to get divorced without turning over all the control to a judge who doesn’t know you, your spouse, or your children—processes are available where you and your partner negotiate and compromise and make decisions together.  

One option is mediation where you work with a mediator who guides you and your spouse through the process of creating outcomes that are best for the both of you and for the future of your family. When I help couples through mediation, I see much more satisfaction from both parties as they brainstorm multiple solutions to issues and come to conclusions together. This is especially important when it comes to making decisions that affect children.  For example, more than one couple I have worked with decided to use a “bird nesting” option where their kids (the baby birds) stayed in the family home (nest) and one parent at a time “flew in and out of the nest” on a every other week basis, staying with friends or family for the time the other parent was in the home.

Not everyone can make this work, but a few can. These parents sacrificed for the benefit of their children—they were willing to disrupt their own live so their children’s lives wouldn’t have to be disrupted on an every other week basis.  

A second option is a collaborative divorce. With this process, an entire team works together to find the best resolutions for both parties and the entire family. Each party has an attorney and a divorce coach. The team also includes a neutral financial consultant, and a child specialist if needed. I love working with couples through a collaborative process—the children have a voice, and you and your spouse have ample opportunity in a supportive environment to creating positive outcomes. A judge is not in control—you and your partner are. 

Both mediation and collaborative practice provide support in a way that just isn’t possible with a traditional courtroom divorce. If you or your spouse are suffering from depression during this difficult time, a supportive divorce process will make things easier for both of you and may even provide an opportunity for processing difficult feelings with your own independent divorce coach, to help you reach resolution of various issues. 

When a Loved One Has Depression 

Some people think of depression as something that only affects adults. But divorce can be very difficult for your children of any age, so if you notice signs of depression in them, address it early. Again, NAMI is a great resource for how to support someone with depression—whether it’s your children, your spouse, or anyone else you love. Here are five useful tips from their website:  

  1. Learn what you can about depression and remember it’s an illness, not a weakness. 
  1. Know the symptoms so you can recognize and address them early. 
  1. Communicate with kindness rather than blame. 
  1. Remain calm and rational—try very hard not to react to their feelings with panic. 
  1. Seek support for yourself as well as for your depressed loved one. 

In the collaborative divorce option, your child can have his/her own Child Specialist as part of the team to bring the child’s needs into focus for the parents.  

Whether it’s you or someone you care about who is dealing with depression, there is help available and it’s not a sign of weakness to get it when you need it. In fact, it is a sign of courage.  

If you, a family member, or even a friend would like to discuss no-court options for divorce or separation such as mediation or collaborative practice, I would enjoy the opportunity to meet.    

When I connect with clients a year or so after their divorce is final, I am gratified to hear them consistently report vast emotional improvement from years prior, often thriving after their very difficult season of life. That is the part of my work that makes me smile. Hold on to hope for your brighter future.