It’s called “heartbreak” for a reason. The sudden emotional pain you experience when a relationship ends is natural and valid.
Breakups can be challenging, especially when they happen abruptly. But can they affect your mental health or cause depression?
Yes. It’s possible to experience symptoms of depression after a breakup, but not all feelings of sadness relate to this condition.
How long it takes to heal from a breakup depends on many factors, and one of them is your emotional response to the event.
Depending on your personal history, depression can be part of your emotional response to ending a romantic partnership. Symptoms may last for a while if you don’t get the proper mental health support.
But grieving is also a common emotional response. It may feel different and last less than symptoms of depression.
How do you know the difference?
Depression is not the same as feeling sad. You may feel very sad after ending a relationship, but it doesn’t mean you have depression.
It may be important to distinguish the difference. This could help manage your emotions and determine whether you may need support from a health professional.
What we usually refer to as depression is medically known as major depressive disorder, and sometimes clinical depression.
Stressful life events, such as the loss of a significant relationship, may cause episodes of clinical depression in some people. But this is not the rule, and there are many other factors involved in the causes of depression.
How do you know what you’re feeling is depression?
Even though everyone is different, mental health experts have identified some common symptoms that, if you experience for 2 weeks or longer, could indicate depression:
- persistent feelings of sadness
- loss of pleasure or interest in activities once enjoyed
- changes in appetite and weight
- changes in your sleeping habits
- feeling fatigued, achy, or low in energy
- finding it hard to focus and complete tasks
- feeling irritable, angry, or anxious
- thinking about death, self-harm, or suicide
Not everyone who goes through a breakup experiences these symptoms, though.
Researchers suggest that feeling betrayed, rejected, or not anticipating the end of the relationship may increase your chances of developing symptoms of depression.
Also, if you have a personal history of depression or bipolar disorder, you may have a higher chance of developing depression after a breakup.
If you recognize some of these symptoms in your own life but aren’t quite sure if it’s depression, consider taking our depression test. This test is not meant to be a formal medical diagnosis, but it can help you determine if you may benefit from an evaluation by a mental health professional.
I broke up with my partner: Is it depression or adjustment?
While stressful life events can contribute to episodes of major depression, they may also cause adjustment challenges.
Situational or reactive depression may sometimes feel like clinical depression.
This condition is typically linked to a specific event in your life, and may subside when and if you adapt to the change it may have caused.
Situational depression is not really a formal diagnosis. Instead, we talk about adjustment disorder with depressed mood.
This adjustment disorder is often characterized by persistent feelings of:
- low mood
- loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
The difference with depression is that when the stressor is removed, or you get used to living with it, symptoms decrease.
Grief and depression can sometimes overlap, but they’re different.
Grieving and depression can both involve feelings of intense sadness and social withdrawal.
However, emotions related to grief may come in waves, while people with depression experience sustained low mood and interest for longer than 2 weeks.
“It is common for recently separated individuals to go through a cycle of grieving. The loss of a romantic relationship […] follows the familiar pattern of denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance,” Isha W. Metzger, a licensed psychologist from Atlanta, Georgia, told Psych Central.
In general, when you’re grieving, some experts believe your emotional pain may go through different stages, but it also tends to decrease as time passes.
Eventually, you reach acceptance.
Untreated depression, on the other hand, may continue for a long time without signs of improvement.
Thoughts of self-harm and suicide may also be a sign of depression as well as feelings of worthlessness.
If you notice your emotional pain decreases with time and you can function in the world, as usual, you may be going through a grieving process related to the loss of your relationship.
If, on the other hand, you continue feeling sad and hopeless, among other symptoms, after 2 weeks of breaking up with a partner, and you’re having a hard time going about your day and life, you could be experiencing depression.
Only a mental health professional can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan to feel better.
You can learn more about how depression is treated here.
Emotional pain after a relationship breakup is a natural response to loss, even if you made the decision to end it.
Feeling sad or irritable, having difficulty concentrating, and withdrawing from friends and family for a while after the event is completely valid and not uncommon. It doesn’t mean you have depression.
But if you think you’re having a particularly hard time dealing with the breakup, or your emotions are significantly impacting your life and other relationships, it’s highly advisable that you reach out to a mental health professional.
If you believe you’re going through a grieving process, working on coping skills to work through grief may help.
Here are some tips to work through your sadness after a breakup:
Focus on your body
There are a few immediate and long-term things you can do to improve your mood if you’re sad after a breakup.
One of them is to use your body. This means moving and exercising, but also maybe trying somatic therapy techniques.
For those moments of intense emotional pain, try these tips in the moment:
- Hold an ice cube in the palm of your hand until it melts.
- Take a shower and alternate temperature going from cold to warm to cold.
- Hug yourself, pressing your arms around firmly.
- Tap different body parts, starting with your feet going up to your head.
- Splash your face with cold water.
- Close your eyes and touch something, focusing on how it feels in your hands.
Focusing on physical sensations can help your mind step away from painful thoughts.
On the other hand, when you exercise, your body releases endorphins. These are chemicals that can positively impact your mood.
Exercise can also have
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing all your attention and awareness in the present moment.
You can learn how mindfulness and gratitude can help you feel better here.
You can practice mindfulness at any given moment. For example:
- Focus on colors, textures, and flavors as you eat your meal.
- Close your eyes and concentrate on how your body feels. Identify temperature, tension, and other sensations.
- Go around the room looking at each object and focusing on shape, color, shadows, and position.
Whenever you notice your focus is on what happened or what will happen, try practicing mindfulness to return to the present moment and decrease your distress.
Socializing can help to counteract the feelings of loneliness and sadness that can present with depression and grieving after a breakup.
Even if you don’t feel like it, consider making the effort to reconnect with your friends and family, or to make new connections.
Socializing can also be about attending a class or a public event. This can help you particularly if you’re feeling lonely after the end of a relationship.
You can read more about how to stop feeling lonely here.
Focusing your attention on your gains from the relationship may help you switch from negative thoughts to hopeful ones.
Consider journaling or asking yourself these questions:
- What did I learn?
- What do I need to work on moving forward?
- What am I grateful for?
- What do I now know I won’t accept in another relationship?
- What are all the reasons I feel proud of myself?
Feeling pain after a breakup is a natural reaction. Eventually, it subsides, and you find relief.
But if your emotional pain after a breakup persists or increases, or if you’re considering self-harm, it may be time to seek help.
“If feelings of sadness and grief persist and begin to interfere with daily tasks or domains (like work, school, or home), […] it might be time to seek professional help from a counselor or therapist,” says Metzger.
Consider searching for a professional in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). They can help you reframe your thoughts and develop specific skills to cope. They can also help determine if you have depression.
These resources can help:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists
- Affordable Counseling Through Open Path Collective
- Ayana’s Therapy for Marginalized and Intersectional Communities
Feeling low after a breakup is natural. Even if you decided to end things, you may still experience grief and may need some time adjusting to this change.
But grieving is not the same as having depression. Grief or sadness will decrease with time, while untreated depression may persist. Only a mental health professional can give you an accurate diagnosis.
In either case, it’s possible to find relief from ending a romantic relationship. Your pain does not have to become permanent, and you do not need to go through this on your own.
Feeling lonely is normal after a breakup. You may feel like you lost some of your independence while in the relationship and feel unsure about how to connect with yourself again. You may be struggling with your self-esteem, especially if your ex belittled or emotionally manipulated you throughout your relationship.How long does the sadness last after a breakup? ›
The good news is that even if you do experience depressive symptoms triggered by a breakup, they usually begin to get better on their own by six months after the event.What are the symptoms of breakup trauma? ›
- trouble recognizing, expressing, or managing emotions.
- anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms.
- physical pain or stomach distress.
- panic attacks.
- thoughts of suicide.
- difficulty trusting others.
- attachment issues.
Researchers suggest that feeling betrayed, rejected, or not anticipating the end of the relationship may increase your chances of developing symptoms of depression. Also, if you have a personal history of depression or bipolar disorder, you may have a higher chance of developing depression after a breakup.Can a breakup trigger mental illness? ›
Stressful life events, like a breakup, can trigger depression. But it's possible to have depression-like symptoms without having a mood disorder. It's important to know what symptoms to look for.Can a breakup traumatize you? ›
Breaking up with someone is a process of many traumatic experiences which can trigger traumatic experiences in our lives, as well as manifestations of our trauma we may or may not be aware of.Who hurts longer after a breakup? ›
In terms of physical pain, women averaged 4.21 versus men's 3.75. While breakups hit women the hardest emotionally and physically, women tend to recover more fully and come out emotionally stronger. Men, on the other hand, never full recover -- they simply move on.What are the 5 stages of breakup? ›
They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, according to Mental-Health-Matters. These are the natural ways for your heart to heal.How long do breakup blues last? ›
Studies suggest that most people start to feel better around three months post-breakup. One study, which evaluated 155 undergraduates who'd been through breakups in the last six months, found that 71 percent start to feel significantly better around the 11-week mark, or around three months.What is the shock stage of breakup? ›
Stage 1: Shock
This stage is particularly pertinent if you were the one who was broken up with and if you didn't see it coming. The shock of a breakup is all about pain, disorganization, and confusion, Gullick tells mbg. You may try to rationalize it and feel an immense need to understand what went wrong.
Breakups and PTSD Symptoms
These symptoms can include recurrent, intrusive memories of the relationship or the breakup, emotional numbness, avoidance of places, people, and activities that remind them of the relationship, and increased arousal symptoms such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
Arguably one of the most characterizing symptoms of all PTSD, those who have been in an unhealthy relationship can also suffer from flashbacks or nightmares. A specific smell may transport them back to an awful memory or they may avoid specific people, places, or things that remind them of the past.Why breakup has destroyed my mental health? ›
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.Is breakup depression curable? ›
The amount of time it takes to heal varies for each person, so be patient. While it's normal to feel sadness and pain after a breakup, you should talk to a doctor if your symptoms don't start to improve after a few weeks, or if they get worse.How long does it take to mentally recover from a breakup? ›
Meanwhile, scientists have conducted actual research trying to nail down the timeline for moving on: A 2007 study1 found 71% of people who'd gone through a recent breakup felt better after about three months, while a survey of some 2,000 people in 2017 put the number at six months.Can heartbreak affect you mentally? ›
Treating the effects of heartbreak while allowing the person to mourn the loss of a relationship can be a tricky balance. “Depression, anxiety, and withdrawal from friends, family, and usual activities are some of the most common emotional reactions to heartache after a breakup,” Kelman says.What are the 4 stages after breakup? ›
Even ifyou were the one who initiated the split, there are five stages ofgrief that you will go through. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, according to Mental-Health-Matters.Does heartbreak affect mental health? ›
Amongst these, other effects of heartbreak include; increased stress, reduction or increase in weight, feeling of hopelessness, self-deprecation, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Heartbreaks can be a lot to handle because love is a drug.