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Can a breakup cause depression?

After six years together, two of them long-distance, Barry and Andrea found themselves fighting more than they were laughing, avoiding each other more than seeking togetherness.

“If we weren’t in some sort of argument, we weren’t talking,” says Andrea. “It was so painful. We had waited so long to live in the same city – I’m originally from San Diego and moved to Detroit, where he’s from – and I think I felt a lot of resentment because it was like, ‘Hey, I uprooted my life for you,’ and it seemed like he loved me more when we were apart and there was no gratitude.”

Broken up for a year now, however, Andrea says that in retrospect, “he probably felt like I was holding the move over his head too. I do remember thinking a lot, ‘How long am I going to hold on to this point system?’ I think he probably felt like I was trying to “win,” like I loved him more and nothing he would do could ever be as “big” as what I did, which was that cross-country move.”

The turmoil caused by the breakup sent Andrea into a tailspin. She says she cried every day for two weeks, until her parents convinced her to come home. She quickly vacated the apartment she’d shared with Barry (he had moved in with his brother) and drove back to San Diego to live with her parents. For a week, she slept on a mattress on the floor in their bedroom.

“I couldn’t function,” Andrea admits. “I was in tears all the time, I couldn’t eat. I lost 20 pounds in the blink of an eye. I could barely smile through anything. It was like everything just shut down, and I didn’t want to do life anymore.”

When an individual experiences depressive symptoms after a breakup, it can sometimes be diagnosed as an adjustment disorder with depressed mood, or what’s more commonly known as situational depression. This type of disorder can last a few months to years.

The symptoms are common at the onset of a breakup, especially one that was meaningful, but when the following symptoms last for two weeks or more, and are disruptive to a person’s daily life, it could mean that a visit to a mental health professional is necessary:

  • Fatigue
  • Appetite changes
  • Weight loss or weight gain (rapid)
  • Sadness
  • Feelings of worthlessness or emptiness
  • Listlessness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Suicidal ideation

Although breakup depression isn’t a diagnosis, the depression that can arise after the end of a relationship is certainly understandable and very real. Depression may be the diagnosis if you report to your doctor that you’re experiencing any or all of the above symptoms within three months of the breakup, and if your symptoms are disproportionate to the event.

Just like any type of depression, there’s treatment for this and a way through. If your symptoms are mild to moderate, you may be able to move through your depression with self-care, talk therapy and time; if your symptoms are more severe, talk therapy is most certainly advisable. Your doctor may even prescribe medications.

The end of a relationship can be devastating; we empathize with anyone who experiences loss. But remember that you must be and are the most important person to you, and before you’re responsible for anyone else, you must take care of you.

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