Symptoms and signs of a nervous (mental) breakdown

A “nervous breakdown” or “mental breakdown” is a term used to describe a period of intense mental distress or illness that comes on suddenly. During this period, you are unable to function in your daily life.

This term was once used to refer to a wide variety of mental health conditions, including:

“Nervous breakdown” is not a medical term or an official diagnosis of a specific condition. It has no agreed definition, but is instead used by many people to describe intense symptoms of stress and an inability to cope with life’s challenges.

What others consider a nervous breakdown can also be an undiagnosed mental health problem.

The signs of a nervous breakdown vary from person to person. The underlying cause can also affect the types of symptoms you experience. You may experience symptoms that are:

  • physical
  • psychological
  • behavioral

Since the term “nervous breakdown” is not used in the medical community, this mental condition has been described with a wide variety of symptoms that tend to come on suddenly.

These include:

  • depressive symptoms, such as:
    • constantly feeling sad or hopeless
    • feeling guilty or worthless
    • low energy or fatigue
  • anxiety symptoms, which may involve:
  • insomnia symptoms, which include difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • panic attacks, which can include:
    • extreme fear or feeling of unhappiness
    • difficulty breathing
    • tremble or shake
    • rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations
    • sweat
  • symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which occur after a person has experienced a traumatic event and may include:
    • intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares about the event
    • avoidance of places or situations that trigger related memories
    • continue to feel guilt or shame about the event
    • self-destructive or reckless behaviors
  • extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts
  • hallucinations, which means hearing noises or seeing things that have no external stimulus
  • paranoia, such as believing that someone is watching or stalking you

People with a nervous breakdown may also withdraw from family, friends and co-workers. Withdrawal signs can include:

  • avoiding social functions and engagements
  • eat and sleep badly
  • maintaining poor hygiene
  • calling in sick to work for days or not showing up for work at all
  • isolate yourself at home

A person may report having had a nervous breakdown when the stress is too much for them to bear. This stress can be caused by outside influences.

Potential causes and triggers of a nervous breakdown include:

  • recent injury or illness that makes daily life difficult to manage
  • recent traumatic event, such as a death in the family
  • persistent stress at work or school
  • relationship changes, such as a divorce
  • Job Loss
  • exposure to violence
  • discrimination
  • serious financial problems, such as a house that is subject to foreclosure
  • a major life change, such as moving
  • bad sleep
  • chronic medical conditions

A personal or family history of mental disorders can increase the risk of nervous breakdown. A lack of strong social support can also contribute.

If you think you or someone you love is suffering from a nervous breakdown, make an appointment with a primary care doctor or mental health professional. Consulting a healthcare professional is especially important if you are at risk of harming yourself or others.

Your doctor will give you a complete physical exam and discuss any medications you are currently taking to make sure other factors are not contributing to your symptoms.

They may then refer you to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist for further assessment and treatment, which could include:

  • talk therapy
  • medications
  • lifestyle changes

talk therapy

Your doctor may recommend talk therapy to treat your symptoms. A common type of psychotherapy commonly used is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety, depression, and other serious mental health issues. This involves identifying problematic thought patterns and learning coping skills to better navigate difficult situations.

Medications

In addition to talk therapy, your practitioner may recommend prescription medications to treat symptoms or other diagnosed mental health issues. This may include an antidepressant or anxiolytic.

Lifestyle changes

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of collapsing, consider these strategies to manage your symptoms:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can worsen symptoms of mental health issues and interfere with sleep.
  • Exercise regularly, which helps fight stress and improve sleep. Regular physical activity has also been shown to improve symptoms of many mental health conditions.
  • Have a healthy and balanced diet. This includes a lot of:
    • fresh fruits and vegetables
    • whole grains
    • legumes
    • nuts and seeds
    • lean protein
  • Develop a bedtime schedule and routine that will help you sleep well. It could mean:
    • take a hot bath
    • turn off electronic devices
    • read a book
  • Practice stress relief techniques, such as:

It’s not uncommon to feel unable to cope with the stresses of life at one time or another. But stress can become a health issue if it begins to interfere with your ability to perform daily tasks.

A nervous breakdown could be a sign of a mental health problem. It is important that you see your doctor as soon as you notice signs of depression.

Your doctor can help you treat the physical symptoms. They can also refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional who can address your emotional, mental, and behavioral symptoms.

Caregivers should also contact a doctor as soon as possible if they are concerned about the behavior or mental state of a loved one.

Lifestyle changes can help you prevent a nervous breakdown. They can also help reduce its severity and frequency. These include:

  • exercising regularly at least 3 times a week, which can be as simple as walking around your neighborhood for 30 minutes
  • see a mental health professional or attend counseling sessions to manage stress
  • avoiding drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and other substances that stress the body
  • sleep at least 7 hours a night
  • incorporate relaxation techniques like deep breathing into your daily routine
  • reduce your daily stress level by:
    • pace yourself
    • take mini breaks
    • organize their environment and daily activities
    • keep a daily to-do list

You can make these changes yourself, but it may be more helpful to work with a healthcare professional to create a treatment plan that best meets your healthcare needs.

If you think you are having a nervous breakdown, contact your doctor or healthcare professional as soon as possible. They can help determine the cause, diagnose any health issues that may be contributing to your symptoms, and refer you to a specialist for further care.

The following organizations can also provide information, support and referrals to mental health professionals:

A nervous breakdown is also known as a mental breakdown. The term is not an official diagnosis and is not used by the medical community.

However, it is sometimes used to describe when mental distress suddenly becomes so overwhelming that a person cannot function in their day-to-day life. A nervous breakdown can also be a sign of another underlying mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety.

If you think you’re having a nervous breakdown, it’s important to see your GP or mental health professional as soon as possible. They can help diagnose any mental or physical health issues and determine the underlying causes of a breakdown.

Your doctor may refer you to another healthcare professional. They can also provide therapy, medication, or lifestyle recommendations to address mental health issues and help you find a healthier way to cope with stress.

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