We've seen the aftermath of a breakup played out in TV shows and movies time and time again: Someone gets broken up with, they're sad for an indefinite amount of time, and they cope by listening to sad songs and eating pints of ice cream in one sitting.
Obviously, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that post-breakup scenario... apart from the fact that it isn't always the case for everyone.
Breakups affect people differently. And in some instances, the emotional toll a breakup takes on your mental health can be pretty serious, even clinically speaking.
While we might associate clinical depression with things like intense trauma or the death of a loved one, lesser emotional events — like breakups — could also trigger symptoms of depression in people who have never been diagnosed with the mental illness.
In honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month and to determine if and how a breakup can actually cause someone to become clinically depressed, Elite Daily spoke to Dr. Jennifer Rhodes, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and founder of Rapport Relationships, and Dr. Erika Martinez, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, for some insight.
Can you actually become clinically depressed after a breakup? How would this happen?
Both Rhodes and Martinez agree that the short answer is, yes, you can absolutely become clinically depressed following a breakup.
"Depending on the nature of the breakup, the loss of a significant relationship can be a trigger for depression. We all go through a grieving process and depression is a common symptom," Rhodes tells Elite Daily.
According to Martinez, at its core, a breakup is an "incredibly painful" loss of someone who meant a great deal to us — it's "a loss of a partner, a friend, and a loss of love and belonging."
She continues, "As people grieve these simultaneous losses, they can show signs of depression."
Rhodes says a breakup can cause depression simply because "it's biology" — a negative emotional response (such as depression) to this loss is completely natural.
"[When] we attach to someone emotionally like we are wired to do, the loss of that relationship results in grieving," she says.
She also explains how the sudden loss of any intensely close relationship — especially a romantic one — can be a detriment to one's mental health:
We know this from studies in the 1950s when children were separated as infants from their parents for months at a time. We thought they were too young to notice the loss but they all grieved and became very depressed. It is the reason why hospitals now are more parent friendly, as [we] learned that the relationship between child and parent is important for a child's overall mental health. It is the same with dating and relationships. That person probably became a significant and important person.
How can someone differentiate between normal sadness following a breakup and something more serious?
Though feelings of sadness, hurt, frustration, and emotional exhaustion are totally normal after a breakup, it's important to be able to tell when a breakup is affecting your mental health more seriously.
"People who are emotionally sensitive or who are empaths may feel the loss more intensely and are especially encouraged to seek support," Rhodes explains.
For example, if you've been unable to "get out of bed," Rhodes says "a consultation with a professional is important."
According to Martinez, there are some particular signs to look out for after a breakup that could signal a "more severe depression":
I'd construe changes in sleep and appetite, poor concentration, and loss of interest — while all signs of depression — as normal sadness following a breakup. Decreased hygiene, frequent absences from work/school, isolation, and sleeping all day are also signs of depression but are indicative of a more severe depression.
Whether you're feeling just generally sad after a breakup or you suspect something more serious might be going on, Rhodes suggests finding some sort of support in another person (or group).
"Getting support to help process the loss can speed up the recovery. It can be a therapist, a coach, working with someone like me (Rapport offers breakup services), a support group, etc." she says. "It is simply important after a couple of weeks to try not to recover completely alone."
However you grieve after a breakup is up to you.
Just know that, if you feel your breakup is taking a particularly intense toll on your mental health, you're probably not exaggerating, and you're definitely not alone.