Heartbreak-Related Depression: Does It Exist?


heartbreak-related depression
A bad breakup leaves you depressed and anxious. So what's normal sadness and what's real depression?

Regardless of exactly what led Alexa to take those pills, women and men who have experienced depression triggered by a bad breakup are praising the singer for opening up about her experience. Alexa's Facebook page is flooded with shout-outs commending her for going public with her condition. 

"I absolutely think Heartbreak-Related Depression exists, as anyone who's experienced it can tell you," says Susan Piver, the Boston-based author of the just-released memoir The Wisdom of a Broken Heart: An Uncommon Guide to Healing, Insight and Love and a commenter on Alexa's page. 


"Remorse, grief and shock are common in any heartbreak in life, but when it's over a relationship there are other qualities: incredible shame, ridiculously low self-esteem, mood swings absolutely beyond your control. But the biggest one is obsessive thinking, whether you're awake or asleep. You're thinking what if I dyed my hair? What if I wore boots instead of heels, would things have turned out differently? It's incredible how your own mind turns against you." 

Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University who studies romance and the brain, recently used a scanner to study the brains of 15 people who were rejected in love. The activity in certain areas of the brain "explains a lot about Heartbreak-Related Depression that psychology cannot," she says. 

"The heartbroken person has a very bad combination in the brain of intense love they can't get [reciprocated], intense craving, and real feelings of physiological distress," Fisher said, adding that this can lead to depression as well as "doing stupid, dangerous things to win the person."

Is It Sadness Or Depression?
According to the American Psychological Association's fact sheet, depression occurs when "feelings of extreme sadness or despair last for at least two weeks or longer and when they interfere with activities of daily living such as working or even eating and sleeping. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and hopeless and to blame themselves for having these feelings. Some may have thoughts of death or suicide."

While the APA's fact sheet doesn't specifically name "heartbreak" as a cause of depression, it does say that "significant transitions and major life stressors such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job can help bring about depression. Other more subtle factors that lead to a loss of identity or self-esteem may also contribute." 

Carl Hindy, a New Hampshire psychologist at hindyassociates.com who specializes in depression and relationships, says a bad breakup could certainly lead to a loss of identity or self-esteem, especially among young people. 

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