Divorce is not something people enjoy talking about and reminding themselves of. Yet, it’s the reality for many, many families out there. The latest statistics show that in the US, 50% of marriages end in divorce. In the UK, it’s 42%. In Russia, which is the first in rankings when it comes to the number of divorces, 2020 statistics showed that 73% of marriages ended in divorce. A year before, this number was 65%, and many believe that the coronavirus pandemic is at fault. The pandemic is easy to blame: it spiked the number of divorces worldwide; pushed people into lockdowns and broke routines that are so important for a comfortable marriage. Yet, even without the pandemic, the number of people going through divorces is heartbreaking. And more often than not, the parties involved are not handling it well.
Divorce is one of the most common traumatic experiences a person lives through. The effects can be tremendous for mental and physical health. Some of the effects are attributed to the emotional states of the parties, while some are due to social and financial consequences. Plenty of studies show that divorce and separation increase the risks of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and eating disorders. A 2012 survey showed that almost 80% of those who attend divorce recovery classes either suffered from some form of mental illness or dealt with a partner who suffered. Finally, divorce affects overall psychological well-being: a person’s feelings of being balanced, connected to others, and ready to meet life challenges. As you imagine, these are incredibly important for the overall well-being and quality of life.
Despite all that, divorces are not usually surrounded by the kind of social support that you see in other common traumatic experiences, such as, for example, the death of a loved one. In case of a divorce, families often take sides, making it harder for everyone involved; counseling isn’t seen as something justifiable, employers don’t give compassionate leave, and religious institutions frown upon the whole event. The person is often left to deal with their trauma alone, along with all the post-divorce practical issues they have to solve.
Are mental health apps effective?
Unfortunately, no amount of apps and tech solutions can replace a good mental health counselor (yet). But, they can help the person get through the divorce and support them in the first years, which are seen as the most challenging. For those who can’t introduce a therapist into their lives, or want to benefit from the joint power of mental health counseling and digital help, there are mental health apps. They help to learn healthy coping strategies and stick to them, make it easy to stick to healthy habits and take care of your body as well as your mind, prevent the person from ruminating and going down the rabbit hole and generally provide a structure, support, and sense of control which are often needed during and after the divorce. In addition to that, most mental health apps are affordable or even free, and accessible for any smartphone user.
Evidence-based mental health apps for recently divorced
What’s up is a free mental health app that helps you track your thoughts and feelings, and not let them spiral out of control. In case they do that anyway, there are plenty of exercises, from breathing exercises to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) approved methods, that can help you get back on track. The app provides a free space for you to rant about your thoughts to a forum of people who experience similar issues. The app has a space called “Thinking patterns” that helps you identify unhelpful thoughts and challenge them. A “Metaphors” section offers stories and illustrations for the user to see alternative ways of looking at their situation. There is also a “Get Grounded” section, which is a game that helps you remember where you are and what is happening right at this moment. And there are plenty of other features.
What’s up is a well-designed app that substitutes a personal notebook and a good CBT workbook. While it most definitely won’t turn your life upside down and make lemonade out of your lemon-flavored soul, it will bring structure and ease to the post-divorce period that is full of chaos.
Anxiety is one of the most common consequences of a divorce. For many, the life they’ve built has fallen apart, and new worries pile up on top of each other, producing extreme, albeit justifiable, anxiety.
MindShift is a free app dedicated to keeping the user’s anxiety under control. Firstly, it keeps a log of your mental states, making sure you know when and why you feel anxious every day. Secondly, it asks you to explore and analyze what you experience. Is it a general worry? Panic? Phobias? Then, the app provides you with tools to deal with anxiety. This includes coping cards that help you readjust your thinking and “belief experiments” that help you test out your beliefs and worries and see how realistic they actually are. This also includes breathing exercises, calming physical exercises, visualizations, and mindfulness exercises. Another thing the app provides is a guide for taking action, whether it’s facing your fears, getting out of your comfort zone, or building healthy habits.
The app also encourages the users to come up with goals and work towards them, and it has a community the users can join. For those going through the divorce, the app can be helpful for decreasing anxiety, returning a sense of control, and being mindful of one’s own feelings.
Happify is an app whose goal is to help you overcome life challenges. And what is divorce if not a life challenge? Happify helps you transition from your old life to a new one. It helps you break old habits and learn new ones, overcome negative thoughts, and learn to find good things even in the worst situations.
So how does it work? First, you have to answer a set of questions that will help the app identify areas in your psychological state that need support. Then, it provides you with a range of activities and exercises. All of them are taken from the evidence-based psychotherapies: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), mindfulness, and meditation. The app asks the user to do three or four activities each day, each taking anywhere from a minute to ten minutes to complete. The app is heavily gamified, encouraging the user to stick to the activities. For example, there is a “My Track” feature that shows progress, statistics, and prior community posts. You also get chatbots that you can talk to, as well as inspiring and informative content. The app is based on a freemium model, which means you can use Happify for free forever.
Beyond broad mental health apps
Divorce causes feelings of sadness and anxiety even in the most resilient people, and even if you feel fine after the event, trying the apps described above might still be helpful for your psychological well-being. Such apps might prevent future breakdowns, help you work through deeper psychological issues, and generally make you a little bit happier during a stressful period of time.
However, some might experience mental health problems more specific or qualitatively different from the classic marriage of depression and anxiety (pun intended). And, in terms of digital support, people who experience those would need other mHealth apps.
Divorce often works as a trigger for people who have addiction problems and makes their addiction spiral out of control. Just as with everything else, apps are not a substitute for in-person help. Google Play store definitely isn’t all you need to stop substance abuse. However, apps can help track sobriety, motivate you to get rid of the bad habit, monitor triggering behaviors, and give instant access to support. Best sobriety apps include Twenty-Four Hours a Day, I Am Sober, and SoberTool.
Divorces can take a toll on self-esteem, resulting in a very real eating disorder. It’s recommended to seek urgent support for anyone struggling with anorexia nervosa or related disorders. The apps that can help with recovering are Recovery Record, Rise Up and Recover, and Lifesum. The first two help the user stick to a meal plan. They keep a record of the meals and the feelings associated with them. At the same time, they provide a space to vent and be nervous about eating and body image. The latter mHealth app, Lifesum, is focused more broadly on building a healthy lifestyle, which includes healthy eating, building muscle, and spending time outside. You can set personal goals and let the app build a roadmap that will help you achieve them.
No one should be left to struggle alone after a divorce, but this is the reality that many people face. While not a perfect solution, mHealth apps can make it easier to get through a divorce. After all, taking care of mental health doesn’t have to be something mysterious: often, it’s simply doing consistent exercises as you would if you wanted to train the muscles and become physically fit. And mental health apps allow you to do that without leaving the comfort of your home and often without spending a penny out of your pocket.