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What is breakup depression (and do I need help?)

Breakups are rarely easy. But what if moving on after a relationship isn’t as easy for you as it is for others?

What is breakup depression (and do I need help?)

Ending a relationship can be… tough. Perhaps you’ve drifted apart and things have ended amicably; maybe communication had broken down, or your emotional connection has faded over time. Infidelity, money troubles, toxic or excessive jealousy, trouble making things work long-distance – there are more reasons than you can count for a relationship to end. Yet, for many of us, that doesn’t make the healing process any easier.

The average American adult will experience three major relationship breakups during their lifetime, taking six months to get over each fully. Yet, according to research, on average we give ourselves just four days to ‘wallow in sadness’ (or rather, grieve for the relationship we have lost) immediately after it has ended. For those ending a more long-term committed relationship like a marriage, studies have estimated it can take up to 18 months to feel ready to move on.

So, why do some of us seem to be more affected than others when it comes to moving on from our relationships? And could taking longer to ‘get over’ your ex be a sign of something more serious?

Relationship breakups: What’s normal?

The end of a relationship can come with huge life changes. If you shared a home, you may find yourself needing to move; if you shared bills, you’ll need to take another look at your finances. If things weren’t amicable, who gets to ‘keep’ your shared friends? And that’s not even touching the emotional turmoil that can leave you feeling anxious, angry, sad, overwhelmed, bitter, confused, hurt, and heartbroken.

While there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to experience a breakup with someone, there are aspects which can make it feel easier for both of you. You may feel more able and ready to move on if:

  • Your relationship broke up face-to-face. Ghosting, or being rejected by text, call, or email can stop you from having the chance to express yourself and your feelings, and have a final opportunity to go through things together. This can stop you from feeling able to move on, as you may feel like you have unfinished business, or too much has been left unsaid.
  • You both had the chance to be honest. Having a real reason for the ending of a relationship (without things going into too much detail, or feeling too brutal) can help to create a sense of catharsis. You may still be unhappy, or may not even fully agree with that reason, but knowing the why can be a big help in moving on.
  • You had a clean break. When one partner tries to hang on, insists on ‘fixing’ or ‘saving’ your relationship, or even tries to argue that your reasons or feelings that have led to this breakup aren’t valid, it can cause more harm than good. Even if you want to remain friends (something 60% of us manage, according to one 2017 study), it can be easier if you don’t.
  • You avoided blame and shame. In any relationship, nobody is perfect. Trying to villainize one partner isn’t helpful for either of you (even if they have done something many feel is unforgivable, such as cheating). We’re all human. While it doesn’t fix the betrayal, avoiding pointing fingers can also help you avoid holding onto feelings of resentment and anger.
  • You took time to grieve. The end of a relationship is a big deal. Giving yourself enough time to fully process not only what has happened, but what you have lost and what could have been, is an important part of the process. Even if things have ended amicably, or you have drifted apart, there could still be a lot of things to process. When you take the time to do this, it can help to resolve underlying tensions or upset, and feel more ready to move on to a new chapter in your life.

But what if you didn’t have one or more of these? And what if negative feelings are still lingering, months after your breakup?

What is breakup depression?

After a big, unsettling or upsetting life event like a breakup, it’s normal to feel low or upset. But when these feelings last for a long time and start to affect your day-to-day life, it can be a sign of something more serious.

A 2019 study found that, post-breakup, our emotional state can closely resemble clinical depression. Breakup depression, also known as situational depression, is where these negative feelings after a breakup continue to last longer than six months, and negatively impact other areas of your life.

Symptoms, intensity, and length can all vary from person to person. More serious symptoms that can indicate depression over typical end-of-relationship sadness can include:

  • Feelings of apathy, hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness
  • Sudden changes in weight or appetite (increase or decrease)
  • Fatigue, lack of energy, or listlessness
  • Trouble sleeping or waking up (too much or too little sleep)
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • An ongoing feeling of being sad, empty, or numb
  • Thoughts of self-harm, passive suicidal ideation, or suicidal thoughts

If you’re worried that you are experiencing symptoms for a prolonged period, or that they are getting worse, it’s important to reach out and seek help. Speaking with your GP can be the first step towards being assessed for depression (and other mental health concerns) and getting help and support.

What causes breakup depression?

Situational depression can be triggered by big life events. The end of a relationship can cause huge levels of stress, emotional distress and upset. The breakdown of a relationship can lead to big life changes, which not only feel overwhelming but which you may feel like you have to face alone.

Breakups can impact our support networks (losing shared friends, access to inlaws or extended family), our financial situation (covering shared bills alone, returning to a single income), and can mean having to figure out how to co-parent across different households. Relationships ending can also impact how we see ourselves. A breakup may negatively impact your self-esteem and confidence; you may find yourself second-guessing decisions or being overly critical of yourself. You may find you feel more insecure, anxious, or uncertain.

If you already had low self-esteem, it could affect how you see yourself and others. You may struggle to value, like, or believe in yourself. If you make a mistake, you may find it harder to move on. This in turn can make you more likely to be self-critical in the wake of a breakup, making it harder to move on, and potentially more susceptible to feeling worse for longer.

If you have low self-confidence, you may not trust your own judgement, or feel comfortable (or confident) in your own abilities. This in turn can make you feel more insecure and more likely to doubt yourself. This could make it harder for you to feel ready or assured enough to move forward.

How can I look after my mental health and move on after a breakup?

Situational depression symptoms typically fade within six months. For more mild or moderate symptoms, you may feel able to work through these yourself. However, if you’re worried about your symptoms or how long your low mood is lasting, speaking with your GP is the first step. They can offer assessments, referrals, and treatment options.

Speaking with someone with an outside perspective can offer you a safe, neutral space to express yourself and talk through your experiences and feelings. This can, for many, feel freeing, and can help you to process unresolved thoughts and feelings. Working with an experienced, qualified counsellor or therapist can also help you to better understand yourself, the way you think, and how you cope with problems and big life events.

Giving yourself time to embrace your emotions – positive and negative – can help you to better process them, whilst taking time to grieve for your lost relationship. Ensuring you continue to keep a healthy, sustainable self-care routine can ensure that your wellbeing is still a priority. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and continuing to exercise are all not only great parts of a nourishing self-care routine, but can boost your mood, improve energy levels, and help to fuel you through the tough period of adjustment.

Remember, it’s OK to look back on the good parts of your relationship. It’s highly likely that you shared many happy memories together. Just do your best to avoid thinking of only positive or negatives, as this can give you a skewed view, which could lead you to further struggle to move on.

Why not consider hypnotherapy? Hypnotherapy for heartbreak can offer a positive, alternative way to working through heartbreak. Working with a qualified, experienced clinical hypnotherapist can help you to reframe your thoughts, focuses, and goals. They could help you to picture a future without your ex, helping you to feel less overwhelmed here and now. Or they could help you boost your confidence and self-esteem by making you feel more comfortable, confident, and content in yourself and your abilities.


To find out more, visit Counselling Directory or speak to a qualified counsellor.