Mental health during separation

Going through a divorce or separation is a stressful and traumatic experience, as anyone who has been through one can attest. It can represent a seismic shift in your life and can, unfortunately, escalate into acrimonious situations, particularly where one party simply does not want a separation. Understandably, the toll on one’s mental health can be extreme.

It is therefore a necessary part of providing legal representation in these circumstances to be mindful of the emotional impact of events on the parties both now in the future and how this can be navigated.

One of the main difficulties for anyone going through a separation is being able to make sense of the emotions while you are trying to deal with the practical effects of separation. Assessing your own mental health and recognising the symptoms is hard enough as it is, but to try and discuss things like selling the house while struggling with your mental health can feel impossible.

Common problems during separation

It will not surprise anyone who has been through a separation that there are many common difficulties that practitioners recognise in their clients, in particular those relating to anxiety, depression and their associated symptoms.

Once of the most difficult parts of confronting these difficulties is that many people see it is an inevitable consequence of the uncertainty caused by separation and, to an extent, this is correct. Anxiety is something everyone experiences from time to time and it is a normal response to daunting situations. However, despite the acknowledgement of this uncertainty and the anxiety it causes, many people still resist seeking specialised help with deal with these feelings.

As practitioners, we often have to work with this in mind, helping break down particularly daunting issues or subjects to assist clients. However, with increasing awareness of the importance of looking after one’s mental health and the services that are available, it is hoped that people are able to find further support from specialists at such a crucial juncture in their lives.

No one experience is the same and no individual’s struggles with their mental health is identical either. People can present in different ways and can suffer from things like anxiety and depression simultaneously. Accordingly, there is not one size fits all approach, and this is why we as legal professionals are mindful of these realities and work together with you to adapt our approach to better suit how you feel at any given time. 

Additionally, it follows that legal practitioners must also be extremely cautious when considering the mental wellbeing and motivations of your ex-partner when discussing matters with, particularly when they do not have the benefit of representation. It surely cannot assist anyone to make generalisations as to a party’s mental wellbeing, or worse, seek to diagnose a complex personality disorder based on common symptoms of issues such as anxiety, and possibly take action which will only serve to make matters harder for everyone.

Where to get help

The family law services have evolved over time and there are many support services available to clients offering an overall holistic approach now.

A divorce and separation coach can be an invaluable source of support for you as you navigate the process of separation. Qualified coaches registered with recognised bodies professional bodies, such as the IFC and EMCC, offer you a non-judgmental and confidential space to discuss your emotions and wellbeing. Coaching is future focused using tools and strategies to assist you manage the breakdown of your relationship, how to present in mediation and on your onward  journey after separation.

There are many counsellors and therapists who can help you individually or as a couple to manage your separation. They can be used alongside other family law practices such as in mediation or the One Couple One lawyer model to support you fully engage in those processes. A good place to start your search for a therapist is to visit the BACP website. There are different types of counselling, such as person centred approach or Transactional analysis, which can greatly assist you understand how to communicate with each other during your separation and how to get the best out of non-court dispute resolution processes by understanding the dynamics of your relationship. All such services can assist you be more emotionally robust, reduce conflict and thus reduce the mental and financial cost of separation.

The legal profession is making significant progress on the impact of mental health and how this can be considered as part of processes like mediation, however, the additional support from mental health professionals can be invaluable to practitioners trying to support you.