After months of planning, and years of anticipation, the wedding was beautiful. Family and friends. Dancing. A real simcha. She and her family never dreamed a mental health challenge would appear after the wedding. She would be a bride!
So why was she feeling depressed afterward?
For some newlyweds, it may just be “post-wedding blues.” It is not unusual to feel down after the intense planning and preparations – and being the focus of attention. Suddenly, it’s all over. After the wedding and Sheva Brachot (the week of celebratory meals following a Jewish wedding), the pictures and the messages and the updates just stop. Friends and family move on. As a bride or groom, you are facing a difficult adjustment period in the first year, and the “post-wedding blues” just don’t make it any easier.
For some couples, mental health issues that one partner had before the wedding only become apparent after the wedding. (Without defending the practice, if you want to understand why some people hide their mental health challenges when navigating the shidduch (religious matchmaking) system, just read this article by a successful young woman who has been open about her challenges.)
The courtship period in observant communities is often just short enough to enable one or both partners to keep anxiety or other challenges from becoming apparent. But, once the wedding is over, and the new couple tries to settle into a routine, it becomes increasingly difficult to hide problems. Here is how one of my clients described the process (details changed to protect her privacy):
Somehow, I got through dating and meeting the parents, and the months before the wedding, without becoming paralyzed by sadness. Focusing on becoming a bride kept me going. But, once the wedding was over, my depression came back.
Everyday tasks became to seem overwhelming. Cooking, laundry, and even getting out of bed became a struggle. Worse, even talking to my new husband became too much of an effort. He didn’t know about my past struggles with depression. So, I pushed him away and shut him out and just couldn’t explain what was going on.
Is it common that a mental health challenge appears after the wedding?
Our community is not immune to mental health issues. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 18.1% of all adults in the U.S. faced a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder in the last year.
These challenges include major depression (6.7% of all U.S. adults last year, 10.3% of people aged 18-25), anxiety disorders (18.1 of all US adults last year, with women 60% more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder), and bipolar disorder (2.6% of US adults in the last year, with 25 being the average age of onset).
There is no reason to believe that the prevalence of these disorders is lower in the Jewish or observant Jewish communities. In fact, at least among Ashkenazim, risk factors may contribute to prevalence.
It won’t happen to me or in my family
To make this number more tangible, consider that of the last 10 weddings that you attended, statistically 4 of the newlyweds will likely experience a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder.
You can pretend that mental health challenges won’t be a factor in your family or circle of friends, or your own marriage. But pretending will not make the challenges go away. I have seen countless individuals who hoped that once they were married, the nagging self-doubt, sadness, shame and loneliness they felt, would be a thing of the past when they found their bashert. Unfortunately for many, feeling alone and flawed after marriage only exacerbated the feelings they felt before the wedding. Being part of a community can help, but our communities can also impose expectations of perfection that can make your challenges even more difficult to handle.
What can be done?
The first step is to remove the layers of shame that prevent you from getting help. For many challenges, effective help is available in the form of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can complement medication, or can help you wean away from medication. With help, you can return to functioning well – or even improve how you felt and functioned before all these new challenges came about.
An important part of healing, and helping the marriage survive, is helping your partner understand your challenges. In my practice, I often bring in the partner to a number of sessions to help him or her understand what their new bride or groom is feeling. In my experience, not only can many people be helped to live happy and productive lives, but the empathy and understanding that the partner expresses and achieves can be the building blocks for a relationship that thrives. After all, it is that feeling of connection, empathy and understanding most of us dream of, when we think about being married.
For most of us, making a living and raising children are serious challenges. When we get through it together with our husband or wife, we become stronger as a team. Mental health challenges don’t have to be any different than the other difficulties that both frighten us and forge our relationship. With help, you are likely to be able to manage your challenges. Your spouse can great a greater understanding of what you face and can become a resource for you. Together, you and your spouse can thrive.