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Divorce and Depression: How to Manage Both

Divorce and Depression: How to Manage Both

Brian Stefan, ACSW, MSW, was our guest on THE Amicable Divorce Expert podcast on Wednesday.  He shared with us his work with grief and suicide.  Historically, suicide became a public conversation with the death of Marilyn Monroe in the 60’s.  Before then, the topic was taboo. Something to be ignored and not analyzed. Because Marilyn Monroe was a movie star, and dearly loved by America, it had to be explored as an option in the way she died. That was one of the best legacies that Marilyn could have given us.

Brian said, “The opposite of suicide is connection. Connection to other people, and connection to life itself.” Grief and depression precede the decision to commit suicide. “Telling someone to ‘cheer up’ or ‘just take some time off and you’ll feel better’ isn’t the answer, either,” Stefan continued. If connection to people and life are missing, that has to be reestablished by a professional trained in grief and suicide. And it has to be the right professional who has extensive experience working in the field of depression and suicide.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the organization that spouses and children of someone who suffers from severe depression, a mental health issue, can go for education and to figure out how they can live with someone with depression, with the possibility of suicide, or get the guidance available to know how to leave someone with depression and suicide ideation. There is tremendous guilt associated with the idea of divorcing a spouse with mental health challenges: The question becomes, “How much of my life do I want to give up in order to stay married to someone who can’t connect with me? Am I supposed to put my life on hold in order to be supportive of my depressed and possibly suicidal spouse?” Followed by, “Am I responsible for my spouse hurting him/herself if I file for divorce?”

These are huge questions that most people ask before discussing divorce with a depressed spouse. If the decision is to leave anyway, a team of people should be hired who can handhold both you and your spouse so that you are not alone with just your attorney to navigate a standard filing. Attorneys are not mental health specialists. They are legal professionals; they can’t do anything to mitigate a life-threatening situation if it occurs during the divorce filing. What they can do is show you how to shortcut the filing process to at least get a divorce but without the actual settlement terms that are typically put in a written agreement. If possible, omitting the negotiation for settlement, may be a life saver for your depressed spouse, and a temporary win-win because in a divorce there are two upsetting parts: The idea of living alone, followed by the negotiation for custody, support, and division of assets and debts, enough to stress out the healthiest person, but for someone dealing with depression and suicide ideation, it’s enough to consider termination of life. Remember, depression is about the lack of connection with people and life. When you divorce your spouse you are disconnecting from them, and this could lead to suicide.

Bottom line, if divorce is necessary for you to live your best life, and the concern is that the divorce will encourage your depressed spouse to commit suicide or be committed for depression, you will need a team of grief and suicide prevention specialists to work with both of you to keep your spouse alive while using divorce as a catalyst for that spouse to seek professional help for their mental health.