What is a Nervous Breakdown

The term ‘nervous breakdown’ was once used among medical and psychology professionals to describe a period of extreme anxiety in a person’s life. It was a catch-all phrase meant to define what we now refer to as anxiety, depression, and acute stress disorder. Today, the phrase mental breakdown is still used interchangeably with nervous breakdown by the general public.

You may hear of it when a celebrity in the news has a mental breakdown or when someone close to you buckles under the weight of their stress and everything in their life (for a time) seemingly comes crashing down. 

Although we don’t use the term in our professional work, we’re acutely aware of the toll unmanageable stress can take on your life. These days, we’re concerned with gaining a more precise understanding of the reasons behind these deep struggles. But when we hear the term used, we know it’s a serious mental health concern that needs prompt attention. 

Mental Breakdown Meaning

Because there isn’t a set diagnosis for a nervous breakdown, the exact definition can be a bit hazy. Still, it’s worth noting that most consider it to be something with a beginning and end although depression and anxiety may still exist after the initial emotional breakdown.

Healthline’s nervous breakdown definition goes as follows:

“There isn’t one agreed-upon definition for what defines a nervous breakdown. It’s generally viewed as a period when physical and emotional stress become intolerable and impair one’s ability to function effectively.”

Should ‘Nervous Breakdown’ Be Added to the DSM-5?

Some individuals who aren’t in the mental health field assume a mental breakdown is a diagnosable mental health condition. In reality, that isn’t the case. 

Still, some mental health experts think it should be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), while others disagree. For instance, Edward Shorter Ph.D. believes we significantly restrict the degree we can help individuals who may experience a nervous breakdown type of challenge (which he refers to as melancholic depression) if it isn’t specifically included in the DSM. 

Shorter views a mental breakdown as something distinct and typically more troubling than anxiety or depression disorders. His concern is that if we don’t view it as such, we won’t offer the best solution to such a challenge. 

“It’s more than a mood disorder; it is a total body disaster,” says Shorter in his “Psychology Today” article entitled ‘Bring Back the Nervous Breakdown!’ In Shorter’s mind, a nervous breakdown doesn’t simply make life uniquely difficult. Instead, it causes it to ‘go off the rails’ for a while.

Signs of a Nervous Breakdown

Nervous breakdown symptoms can result after prolonged times of stress. They also can occur suddenly after a tragic event happens without warning. Here are some possible symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoid thoughts
  • Depression symptoms (Including the loss of hope, thoughts of self-harm, or suicide attempts)
  • Insomnia (trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both)
  • Physical and mental anxiety symptoms
  • Anger outbursts and extreme mood swings
  • Flashbacks of a previous trauma which could indicate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Social Withdraw Concerns

Unsurprisingly, a mental health crisis of this magnitude can lead to a strong urge to isolate from others. Here are some of the ways isolation may be exhibited:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Avoiding social gatherings or obligations
  • Poor sleep and diet
  • Canceling work due to illness
  • Staying in your home too often 

What Causes Mental Breakdowns?

Some common specific causes of nervous breakdowns include:

  • Unresolved and chronic medical conditions
  • A recent tragedy such as the death of a loved one
  • Major financial stressors (like losing a home)
  • Ongoing struggles to relax or get adequate sleep
  • A divorce or other significant life change

Nervous Breakdown Treatment: Consider Counseling

Because there are various reasons a mental breakdown could occur, it’s best to see a licensed therapist to help you understand the underlying causes and how to best manage and recover from it. These extreme anxiety symptoms should be taken seriously by the one struggling and those close to them. 

Remember that life changes. At the moment, it may feel like things will always be this bad. But rest assured, mental breakdowns have a beginning and end. It doesn’t mean that after one is over, all of your problems will vanish. What it does mean, however, is that your challenges will likely be much more manageable by then. 

Are you experiencing intense stress that’s completely overwhelming you? If so, there is hope. Please don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with the Relationship Center of Orange County. We regularly provide individual therapy, marriage counseling, and relationship counseling.

We can assist you with anxiety counseling in Mission Viejo, CA and anxiety counseling in Newport Beach, CA. Teletherapy is also an option if that works better for you or is necessary because of the pandemic. Feel free to schedule an appointment with us.

We provide counseling in the following cities and regions but may also be able to assist you through virtual counseling (teletherapy) if you live outside of that range. Feel free to schedule an appointment with us. We look forward to meeting you!

Our trained and compassionate counselors are here to help. Please call (949) 393-8662, text (949) 393-8662 for an appointment, or schedule online.

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