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What Is A Nervous Breakdown? How To Spot The Signs Your Mental Health Is At Risk

Photo: Daniel Monteiro on Unsplash
What Is A Nervous Breakdown? Signs & Symptoms Your Mental Health Is At Risk

We've all known someone on the verge of a 'complete mental breakdown', but what does that mean?

The term "nervous breakdown" is often used by people to describe an intense stressful situation in which they are temporarily unable to function or maintain daily activities, obligations, or other responsibilities normally.

People who feel they are experiencing symptoms of a mental breakdown are typically under an intense amount of emotional distress, have marked difficulty maintaining daily functioning, and generally feel overwhelmed.

What is a nervous breakdown?

It's worth noting that “nervous breakdown” is an antiquated term used loosely to cover a variety of mental health disorders, significant distress, and anxiety.

The term is not used by physicians and other mental health professionals today, as it isn't a medical term, but rather one used by the sufferer to describe intense feelings of loss of control, emotional anguish, feelings of hopelessness/helplessness, and intense sadness and depression.

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Nervous breakdowns are most likely to occur when an individual is experiencing intense stress, there are significant life changes that the individual has been unable to adjust, challenges that have not been negotiated, or unusually high demands that have become emotionally and physically taxing for the individual.

As previously noted, it is not a term used to describe a specific mental illness or ongoing mental health condition.

People describing feelings of a nervous breakdown usually do so as a way to explain emotional distress that may be outside of the realm of healthy functioning. What some people call a nervous breakdown may indicate an underlying mental health problem — including, but not limited to, conditions such as complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or anxiety — that may require immediate medical/psychiatric attention.

The signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown can vary and may look different from person to person or from culture to culture and religion to religion.

It's helpful to consider individual differences, as well as culture and religion, before determining whether or not someone is experiencing a nervous breakdown.

Signs your mental health may be at risk include the following:

  • Intense feelings of sadness or other depressive symptoms
  • Feelings of helplessness/hopelessness
  • Avoidance of things once enjoyed, e.g. going out with friends/family, missed appointments, etc.
  • Calling out sick for work for several days or longer
  • Inability to function at previous level
  • Changes in eating/sleeping patterns
  • Decline in activities of daily life (referred to by mental health professionals as ADL's)
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia/unexplainable fears
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts/ideations

RELATED: What Is C-PTSD? How Symptoms Of Complex Trauma May Affect Even The Healthiest Relationships

Risk factors that can lead to a nervous breakdown include:

  • Intense stress and anxiety
  • Significant change or loss
  • Serious financial crisis
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Poor or inadequate sleep patterns
  • Recent illness or injury
  • Recent traumatic event

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If you feel that you are experiencing a nervous breakdown, get help.

There are many treatment options that are available that can help those struggling with a nervous breakdown resolve negative symptoms.

Depending on the underlying causes and mental or physical health conditions involved, treatment may include:

  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Taking prescription medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication to treat chemical imbalances
  • Practicing alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, massage therapy, regular yoga/exercise
  • Incorporating meditation in your daily routine
  • Utilizing deep breathing exercises
  • Reducing or eliminating caffeine intake
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Creating a personal schedule

RELATED: How To Find The Kind Of Therapist You Truly Need

Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford is a psychologist who focuses on relationships, dating, and personality issues, as well as a Certified Relationship Specialist with Diplomate Status, and an expert with the American Psychotherapy Association.