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Can divorce cause PTSD?

The end of a marriage is considered to be one of the most stressful life events a person can experience. In fact, one stress scale puts divorce second only to a spouse's death when it comes to inducing stress.

Some mental health professionals assert that divorce can in some cases lead to trauma or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Others say that PTSD can really only result from either "something life-threatening or a threat to bodily integrity," as one clinical psychologist put it.

Everyone reacts differently to divorce, and no two divorces are alike. Psychologists have found that some people experience symptoms during and after divorce that are similar to those experienced by people suffering from PTSD. These can include:

  • Irritability or aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Difficulty sleeping and/or concentrating
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Extremely negative thoughts
  • Exaggerated blaming of others or self-blame
  • Destructive/risky behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities

One psychotherapist says that how the divorce plays out can impact how much trauma a person experiences. She says, "If a person goes through an acrimonious, drawn-out, expensive, time-consuming, and lifestyle altering divorce...it can lead to debilitating symptoms of anxiety in which PTSD takes root. These symptoms are the result of the divorce trauma being embedded in the person's subconscious mind and then experienced as recurrent fears and bad memories."

A person who has experienced some type of trauma in the past may also be more susceptible to being traumatized by divorce. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's wise to seek counseling. Staying physically and emotionally healthy is perhaps more important now than ever.

You have a lot of big decisions to make as you go through your divorce that will impact your family and your finances. You don't want to make them while you're feeling traumatized and anxious. Your family law attorney can likely provide some recommendations for therapists in your area who help people dealing with divorce.

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