On World Mental Health Day 2019 Selena Ludick a Senior Associate Solicitor in our Family team explores the impact Divorce and separation can have on a persons mental health. Selena has over 20 years’ experience, seeing the challenging effects a divorce or separation can have on someone’s emotional health and wellbeing.
This is unsurprising as divorce is often referred to as the second most traumatic life experience, after the death of a loved one. Losing a loved one is something that comes to us all, and, as such is instinctively understood. Families and friends surround the bereaved, religions have rituals, employers give compassionate leave, counselling is easily suggested and taken. Divorce or separation is often viewed differently. Instead of presenting a united front, family and friends typically take sides, religion for its part has an inglorious past on the topic of divorce, very often employers are unaware that an employee is separating and understanding and support are often in short supply. The journey of divorce and separation is often left to self-navigate.
Divorce and separation are an emotional journey with legal and financial consequences. The legal and financial processes are tangible; the emotional journey less so. Relationship breakdown can have the effect of challenging the strongest of people to their core and turning lives upside down. Permanent separation often causes waves of overwhelming emotions of anxiety, depression, rage and hopelessness. Searching questions arise such as, how and why things went wrong leading to depression, shame and resentfulness.
A journey with clients not only requires weighing up the legal and financial consequences, but also trying to take account of the emotional turmoil clients are experiencing. Emotions are important as they usually form the background against which decisions are made. Careful balances need to be maintained and a supportive approach adopted, enabling good, constructive decision making in difficult circumstances.
Some clients show remarkable resilience and ability to function effectively in difficult personal circumstances. This does not mean they do not feel pain, but that some people are more able to control their emotions and keep a positive outlook. Others will struggle more and will become consumed with negative emotions, allowing the situation to overflow into other areas of their lives, damaging other relationships, their work, their health. Everyone is different and, every case is different.
Raising awareness of mental health issues is a great way to show clients that it is okay to ask for help. Clients are reminded that they are not alone in their suffering and that there are many others experiencing the same emotions.
Some points to consider are:-
- Choose a Resolution Lawyer who is committed to a non-confrontational approach. Listen to their advice about not fighting over the small things, point scoring or rising to insignificant bait.
- Take time, don’t rush. Swift progress can be made when both parties are ready to proceed. The converse is also true. There can be legal consequences to delay or hastening matters but dragging one party through a process which they are not yet ready to face often meets with resistance, delay and extra costs.
- It’s okay to feel different. It is normal to feel sad, angry, exhausted, frustrated and confused – and these feelings can be intense. You may also feel anxious about the future. Accept that reactions like these will lessen over time. Even if the marriage was unhealthy, venturing into the unknown is frightening.
- Give yourself a break. Give yourself permission to feel and to function at a less than optimal level for a period of time. Be gentle with yourself.
- Help is available. Consider joining a support group to share your feelings and help you get through this period. Isolating yourself can raise your stress level, reduce concentration and get in the way of work, relationships and overall health. Take time to exercise, eat well and relax. See your GP and speak to a counsellor. & of course, see a solicitor.
- Think positively. Things will not be the same but finding new activities and friends and moving forward with reasonable expectations will make the transition easier.
- Children. Do ensure your children know that your divorce is not their fault. Listen carefully and ease their concerns and be compassionate but direct in your responses.
Avoid arguing with or talking negatively about the other parent or using the children as spies, or making them take sides. Always be the one setting the example of good parenting, no matter what gets thrown at you. More importantly, the children are learning how to deal with their new reality in a positive and constructive way. They will often replicate the behaviour of parents, so show them the right way of dealing with these difficult situations.
Selena has over 20 years of practice and has kept in touch with some of her clients. Many had to confront their own actions as well as those of their ex-spouse and learn from the experience. Most moved on emotionally, in time. Others made big changes – where they lived, their friends, their jobs and so on. Most have said the dark times were tough, scary and all-consuming and they needed help to get through it. But they managed, with help, and reached peace and happiness in their new lives.
If you have been affected by these challenges and are in need of legal advice for Divorce and family issues, our specialist family lawyers can help. If you have any questions please contact Selena Ludick, Senior Associate Solicitor in our Family team. Selena is contactable by email at [email protected] or telephone on 01737 854 509.