Protecting our Mental Health from Nervous Breakdowns
Forget those old Hollywood depictions of someone being trotted off to the “looney bin” wrapped up in a straight jacket and injected with some heavy sedative to swiftly turn them into a drooling vegetable. Come on. In real life—and one never knows when a total mental meltdown could befall any of us so it is best to treat the topic with humility and compassion—a mental breakdown can simply be the result of massive amounts of chronic, unrelenting stress. Perpetually elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, combined with some negative or painful life events have the potential to completely hobble even the most rational among us.
Our mental health is much more fragile than we might realize, and until we are really tested we don’t know what our personal breaking point might be. There are multiple factors that help determine each person’s capacity to withstand stress and strife, each with their own reservoir and coping skills. When events begin to spiral and multiply, those reserves become depleted and any coping skills we might have can lose their power to manage the stress. Sleep becomes disturbed or entirely eludes us during times of angst, only adding to the weakened mental state. Appetites can wane, so nutrition is not maintained. Substances such as alcohol or sedatives may become a crutch to help self-medicate the heightened levels of anxiety and/or depression.
At some point during a mental health crisis, the individual becomes unable to function at basic daily tasks, including their job or fulfilling family obligations. Intervention is called for if this debilitated state persists for more that a day or two, so understanding what mental breakdown symptoms look like can help us recognize when to seek professional or emergency help.
An emergency mental health crisis occurs when the individual’s symptoms intensify to the point where they may become a danger to themselves or others. Serious self-harm or suicide attempts, or a violent assault on someone else is cause for grave concern.
A psychotic break is another example of a mental health emergency, as the individual loses touch with reality. This person may be experiencing visual and/or auditory hallucinations, delusional thoughts, or extreme paranoia. Whatever the underlying cause of the psychiatric emergency, it is imperative for the individual to be assessed as soon as possible.
Potential Causes of a Mental Breakdown
A mental breakdown happens when certain life events or experiences overwhelm the ability to manage the emotional stress, resulting in deep distress that impairs normal functioning. Each individual has a certain tolerance to stress, influenced by temperament, genetics, general health status, emotional maturity, and other factors. The individual attempts to continue managing a stressful situation, often feeling pressured to continue dealing with the burden while attempting to appear normal. Just one more triggering situation could cause the person to mentally break down.
Some of the causes for a mental breakdown, that is when distress eclipses the ability to manage it, might include:
- Extreme or protracted grief. For some, cycling through the grief journey after a significant loss is prolonged and very difficult.
- High stress jobs without proper supports. Work stress is characterized by mental burnout, excessive fatigue, feeling out of control or unable to keep up with demands, and reduced performance.
- A traumatic event. This might include a sudden unexpected death in the family, a natural disaster, combat-related trauma, a serious accident, a serious health crisis, history of abuse
- Ongoing physical or sexual abuse. An individual is consistently exposed to abuse at the hands of someone they know.
- Taking on too many responsibilities. Some find it difficult to say “no” and wind up overcommitted, leading to exhaustion, resentment, feeling overwhelmed, and is a factor for a mental breakdown
- An existing untreated mental health disorder. Severe depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or a psychotic disorder can lead to a mental breakdown.
- Professions associated with emotional burnout. Certain professions have high rates of work burnout and subsequent mental health emergencies. These include:
- First responders
- Humanitarian workers
- Childcare workers
- Restaurant employees
- Severe social conflict. Interpersonal relationships in crisis that impact the quality of home and work life
- Family history of mental health disorders. The genetic component is a risk factor for a potential mental health crisis
- Serious or chronic medical condition. Some medical conditions are debilitating, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, COPD, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Alzheimer’s
- Financial issues, such as mounting debt, bankruptcy, or foreclosure
- Poor coping skills. Difficulty managing or coping with stress in healthy ways, becoming overwhelmed and reaching the point of breakdown.
Whatever the cause of the mental health crisis, when symptoms of a nervous breakdown emerge it is critical to seek out professional help for the individual as early as possible.
Underlying Mental Health Disorders
When an individual reaches a crisis point it becomes imperative to identify which underlying issues may be involved. Is it due to stress overload, poor coping skills, or is it possibly related to a complex undiagnosed mental health disorder or a dual diagnosis:
Anxiety: Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health affliction, impacting over 40 million Americans annually. Anxiety symptoms vary based on the type of anxiety disorder, but generally include:
- Excessive worrying, feelings of fear or dread
- Tense muscles
- Isolating behaviors
- Heart palpitations
Anxiety can be treated with a combination of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure therapies and medications, such as benzodiazepines.
- Feelings of sadness, despair, and hopelessness
- Changes in eating habits resulting in sudden weight gain or loss
- Changes in sleeping habits-insomnia or hypersomnia
- Extreme fatigue
- Slowed thinking and movements
- Irrational feelings of shame or guilt
- Loss of interest in hobbies and favorite activities
- Suicidal thoughts
Depression can be treated using a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant drug therapy.
Trauma: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prolonged response to having witnessed or experienced a highly traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD may include:
- Nightmares, night terrors
- Recurring memories of the traumatic event
- Emotional detachment, dissociation
- Avoidance of any potential trigger, such as a certain location, a situation, a person who could spark painful memories
- Social isolation
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Substance abuse
PTSD is treated with a combination of trauma-focused psychotherapy and antidepressants.
Psychosis: Psychotic disorders feature a break with reality and have different characteristics, including these types:
- Schizophrenia. Features the sense of losing touch with reality, with hallucinations, delusions, angry outbursts, erratic behavior, and extreme moodiness.
- Schizoaffective disorder. Combines features of schizophrenia with a mood disorder involving depressive or manic episodes.
- Brief psychotic disorder. A short-term disorder that is sometimes triggered by a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or a serious accident.
- Schizophreniform disorder. Like schizophrenia but tends to affect young adults and teens, and lasts 1-6 months.
- Shared psychotic disorder. Involves two people who both believe in a delusional situation, such as a husband and wife who both believe the same delusion.
- Delusional disorder. Features false and often suspicious beliefs that the individual believes are true, such as thinking someone is out to murder you or that your spouse is having an affair.
Psychotic disorders are treated by a combination of psychotropic medications, such as mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, sedatives, and antidepressants and psychotherapy.
Dual Diagnosis: A dual diagnosis refers to the presence of a mental health disorder and a co-occurring substance use disorder. Certain drugs, including alcohol, can cause psychotic symptoms or deep depression that may prompt a suicide attempt. These substances include psychedelics like LSD, alcohol, PCP, methamphetamine, cocaine, and benzodiazepines.
Recognizing Mental Breakdown Warning Signs and Symptoms
The signs that a nervous breakdown is developing may evolve gradually, so the situation might surprise friends and family members and reach crisis status before help is sought. If you or a loved one is under extreme stress, it is helpful to know what mental breakdown symptoms look like so proactive steps can be taken before an acute crisis event develops.
Mental Breakdown Signs and symptoms of an impending may include:
- Isolating behaviors
- Lack of interest in sex
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Lack of motivation
- Ignoring hygiene
- Avoiding social situations
- Feelings of anxiety, irritability
- Mood swings
- Slowed movements or speech
- Not showing up for work for days
- Feeling emotionally drained
- Physically exhausted for no reason
- Memory and concentration problems
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Thoughts of suicide
- Panic attacks
Someone exhibiting a cluster of the above symptoms is likely experiencing a mental health crisis and is in need of a psychological evaluation and stabilization. While waiting for medical assistance, it is important to avoid escalating the situation. Use a quiet, calm voice, avoid quick movements, do not make judgmental or critical comments, and listen to the person.
If the individual has a history of mental instability, it is wise to keep on hand the contact information for their psychiatrist, primary care provider, therapist, and close family members. Be sure to remove any items that could be used to inflict harm, such as weapons or prescription pills. If the individual is clearly in a psychiatric crisis, do not hesitate to call 911 for medical assistance.
Acute Stabilization and Emotional Breakdown Treatment
In the most severe cases, it may be necessary for an inpatient hospital stay in order to undergo acute stabilization for an emotional breakdown. Acute stabilization and treatment is needed when an individual becomes a danger to him or herself or others, and often results in a three-day psychiatric hold. This allows the individual to be monitored during an acute mental health event, and provides a safe stress-free environment in which to stabilize. In these events, depending on the severity of the breakdown, the individual may be isolated until they are stable, and then will be transferred to residential treatment.
The prognosis for someone who has experienced the symptoms of a mental breakdown is optimistic. The individual will be immersed in various therapeutic activities that will allow them to learn better coping responses to stress or triggers and the ability to function normally again.
Residential Treatment Overview for Mental Breakdown Symptoms
A residential mental health treatment program provides a supporting environment that allows emotional healing while receiving treatment. By retreating from the stressors into a therapeutic environment, the individual will be able to focus on and participate in the various therapies provided and make sustainable changes in their daily life. There are a wide variety of proven psychotherapies to help individuals learn to manage their thought and behavior patterns in a more productive and rational way.
One of the most effective therapies is cognitive behavioral therapy near me, or CBT. CBT is an effective short-term therapy that helps the individual in distress identify the thoughts that are leading to a sense of chaos or lack of control in their life. Sometimes distorted thoughts can overblow the reality of a situation, resulting in overreacting or hyperarousal, as with a traumatic event. CBT helps to reframe the thoughts into positive, actionable behavioral responses that help them gain back a sense of control over their life.
Stress reduction and coping skills are a significant focus in residential mental health treatment for mental breakdowns. Learning how to diffuse the stress triggers by using deep breathing techniques, guided meditation, and mindfulness can help the individual better manage challenging situations.
Holistic therapies, such as practicing yoga, massage therapy, and art therapy can help boost recovery and are excellent outlets for relieving stress. Aromatherapy, acupuncture, and Tai Chi are also helpful in inducing relaxation to help heal the mind, body, and spirit during the healing process.
Seeking Help for a Mental or Emotional Breakdown
The Treatment Specialist will connect you to a treatment center who will review your signs and symptoms of a nervous or emotional breakdown. Receive a free confidential assessment and guidance about residential programs for your or your loved one’s unique needs. Find help today and call a Treatment Specialist at (866) 644-7911