Research published in 2011 by prominent Brisbane-based suicide
researchers1 showed what many family law clients and
practitioners have suspected for a long time - those going through
separation run a higher risk of mental illness and suicide.
Eminent Brisbane psychiatrist Associate Professor Frank Varghese
says "the distinction between delusional ideas and
non-delusional ideas, and indeed between hallucinations, illusions
and normal perception begin to disintegrate in the face of the
powerful psychodynamic forces unleashed when a relationship breaks
up and particularly when children are
Research into mental health following marital breakdown in
The research conducted in 2011 focused on determining whether
there is a direct link between marital breakdown, shame and
suicidally in men. The researchers chose to focus on men, as the
rates of suicide are four times higher for men than women in
Australia.3 The study surveyed men and women who had
separated from their spouse in the last 18 months, and married and
single men. The research showed that the 'suicide score'
during separation was significantly higher among separated males
compared to separated women, and single and married men, and that
there was a higher rate of mental health problems in separated men
and women than single and married men.
Given the higher rates of mental health issues and suicide
following separation, it is important that family lawyers encourage
their clients to seek help from experts such as counsellors,
psychologists and psychiatrists, and to talk to trusted family
members and friends about what they are going through. We
understand that for some people it can be difficult to seek
professional help. However, given the potential mental and physical
health risks, it is vital that help is sought where needed and that
early intervention takes place.
Tips for those going through a separation
If you are going through a separation or you know someone who
is, the following advice4, coupled with our experience,
Give yourself a break: Give yourself
permission to feel and to function at a less than optimal level for
a period of time. The breakdown of a relationship is a significant
life-altering event and can trigger emotions not experienced
previously. It's important to take time out, nurture yourself,
get into a routine, exercise, and eat and sleep well, but avoid
using alcohol, drugs or food to cope.
Allow yourself to grieve the loss of the
relationship: Do not suppress feelings of resentment,
sadness, fear and confusion, as it will only prolong the grieving
Know the difference between a normal reaction to
separation and more serious issues: Grief can be
paralysing after separation, but day-by-day the sadness should
begin to lift. However, if you do not feel any forward momentum,
you should seek professional help. Experience suggests that it
takes about two years to fully get though a separation. Because it
is an emotional rollercoaster, some days you will feel wonderful,
while other days you will feel dreadful. This is a normal process.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it takes time.
Do not go through it alone: Isolation can
raise stress levels and reduce concentration. It is important to
spend time and share your feelings with friends and family. Seek
out professional help. Journaling can also be a helpful outlet.
There are also a number of free counselling services available such
as Lifeline (131 114], the Salvation Army (13 72 58] and Mensline
(1300 789 978].
1 Kolves, K., Ide, N. and De Leo, D.
"Marital Breakdown, Shame, and Suicidally in Men: A Direct
Link?". Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour 41(2] April 201
1, 149 - 159 2 Varghese, F. "Psychiatry and the Family Court -
a modified psychodynamic approach." 3 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007 4 Segal, J., Kemp, G. and Smith, M. (2012] "Coping
with a Breakup or Divorce: Moving on After a Relationship
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