Are You Experiencing a Nervous Breakdown?
Although it appears to be increasingly falling out of the common lexicon, the term “nervous breakdown” was once used to describe any number of mental health problems that appeared to strike suddenly. Unfortunately, the term is often used loosely or casually, and sometimes, as in films and TV, for comic effect. But is there really such as thing as a nervous breakdown? Well yes, and no.
Yes – a person can indeed ‘break down’ suddenly. The human body is a fragile mechanism that, when put under too much stress, will stop functioning normally. A person exposed to long-term, unrelenting severe stress is particularly vulnerable to experiencing a ‘breakdown.’ How does a breakdown manifest itself? The primary characteristic of a breakdown usually involves some sudden disintegration of the self. This means that an individual who usually follows a set pattern of behaviors will suddenly break away from their routine. Imagine this scenario: a person wakes every morning, goes to work, seems to function normally, visits with friends as usual, and then returns home. Imagine this person suddenly waking one morning and unable to get up. They have lost their drive, their ability to function normally, to communicate with family or friends. Perhaps they are even incapable of dressing or eating. This person is experiencing a nervous breakdown.
What other types of symptoms might be described as those associated with having a nervous breakdown? Some individuals might experience the uncontrollable need to cry, loss of energy, withdrawal, confusion, despair, inability to think clearly, sleep disruption or insomnia, loss of pleasure in everyday activities, feelings of worthlessness and depression. These “down and out” feelings are characteristic of depressive disorders.
Some individuals have breakdowns that manifest symptoms of psychosis. Breakdowns involving psychosis may involve hearing voices, seeing visions, feelings of paranoia, feelings of being pursued, feeling sensations that are not really present, grandiose or delusional behavior, bizarre public behavior, feeling of jealousy, and feelings of violence.
Whatever the nature of the breakdown, all breakdowns have in common the inability to function as normal.
What is a nervous breakdown really? A person who experiences symptoms of a nervous breakdown is suffering from some sort of mental disorder. That is, despite what we used to think, a nervous breakdown in and of itself is not an illness or disease. They are merely symptomatic of a larger problem. In fact, no legitimate physician or mental health professional would ever diagnose someone as having a nervous breakdown. The characteristics of a nervous breakdown can be symptomatic of a large variety of mental illnesses. The most common illness that resembles these characteristics is a Major Depressive episode. Other disorders that are related to what we think of as a nervous breakdown include panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma disorders, acute stress disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, and mood disorders. All of these mental disorders are characteristic of what many laypeople would characterize as a nervous breakdown.
Who is most likely to suffer from a nervous breakdown? Almost anyone who is subjected to undue stress is capable of experiencing a nervous breakdown. For instance, any person who has been subjected to extreme stress and trauma is vulnerable to experiencing a disorder that mimics the general perception of a nervous breakdown. For instance, a young person returning from battle may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A woman experiencing severe depression after the birth of her child may experience post-partum depression.
How can a person suffering any of the characteristics of a nervous breakdown get help? Sometimes the hardest part of recovery is getting the person to visit a doctor. For some kinds of mental disorders, a nervous breakdown can be a blessing in disguise. An individual suffering from severe anxiety or depression may find her self speaking to a psychotherapist for the first time. A person who suffered alone for long time may suddenly find himself getting better with medical attention. In many fortunate cases, the person who experienced the nervous breakdown may emerge from therapy stronger and healthier than ever before. Treatments can include antidepressant and psychotropic medications, psychotherapy, and prescribed periods of rest.
Prevention of nervous breakdowns is an oft-ignored subject that researchers are beginning to study. The characterization of a nervous breakdown as something that happens very suddenly can be misleading. In many cases, symptoms of the coming breakdown are present, but either the individual or their family and friends ignore them. Individuals who sense themselves becoming increasingly stressed, depressed, angry, or violent are encouraged to seek help immediately.