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Life can be overwhelming. From school deadlines to arguing with your best friend, it can feel like the problems are just piling up. Unfortunately, many people struggle under the pressure that everyday problems can pose on their mental and emotional health. This can result in a mental breakdown.

A mental breakdown isn’t a clinical term or mental health disorder, but it can still be treated by a mental health provider. How do you know if you’re having one, or may be at risk of having one in the near future? That’s what we’re here to help you figure out.

Read on to learn about what a breakdown is, potential signs to look for and how to treat it.

What is a mental breakdown?

A mental breakdown, also known as a nervous breakdown, refers to a period of extreme emotional or mental distress. The intense amount of stress makes it nearly impossible to complete your daily responsibilities. This can result in a mental health crisis.

A breakdown can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:

  • Major and/or sudden life changes
  • Unexpected tragedy
  • Lack of sleep
  • Financial issues
  • Increased stress (burnout)
  • Abuse
  • Mental health issues including depression and anxiety

6 signs of a mental breakdown

Since the terms “mental breakdown” or “nervous breakdown” aren’t used in the medical community, the intense emotional and mental distress is described by the sudden onset of symptoms including:

  • Depression or anxiety — Since a breakdown stems from mental health struggles, the signs can often manifest as symptoms of mental health disorders, including major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. The signs include persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, irritability, suicidality, and restlessness. There may also be physical symptoms including clammy hands and dizziness.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder — Sudden PTSD symptoms can be a sign of a breakdown after a traumatic experience. These symptoms can include intrusive thoughts, feelings of guilt or shame, self-destructive behavior, and unexplained outbursts or extreme mood swings. 
  • Panic attacks — Intense and sudden anxiety can result in a panic attack, which is an episode of physical symptoms including difficulty breathing, sweating, nausea, heart palpitations and shaking. Panic attacks can stem from a sudden fear of a perceived threat or feeling out of control even if there isn’t a clear trigger. 
  • Lack of sleep — Having a regular sleeping pattern is essential to your mental and physical health. If you’re struggling to get enough sleep due to stress, meaning at least eight hours a night for teens, it could contribute to a potential breakdown. It’s also important to note that fatigue and a lack of energy can be a sign of a breakdown as well, which could be partnered with a lack of sleep. 
  • Appetite changes — Everyone copes with stress in different ways. While some turn to food for comfort, others struggle to eat three square meals a day when they feel overwhelmed. Sudden appetite changes can be a sign of extreme emotional or mental distress that may lead to a breakdown. Straying from your usual appetite could include over- or undereating. 
  • Withdrawing from others — When someone experiences intense feelings of emotion that they aren’t able to cope with, they might withdraw from their friends, family members and significant others. Withdrawal could include calling out of school or extracurricular activities, consistently declining social events, and isolating yourself at home.

How to treat a mental breakdown

A mental breakdown is considered a mental health crisis. If you feel overwhelmed by your emotions to the point where you may hurt yourself, immediately contact emergency services or the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 988. You may also admit yourself into an inpatient psychiatric hospital.

If your breakdown doesn’t require immediate medical assistance, then you should seek out a therapist who can help you work through your problems. They can help you learn to cope with everyday problems that can be contributing to mental health issues. 

A therapist may also recommend medication such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication, depending on your symptoms and potential mental health disorder diagnosis. 

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help you before, during and after a mental breakdown

Whether you’re experiencing symptoms that can lead to a breakdown, currently feeling intense mental and emotional distress, or just left an inpatient psychiatric facility, we’re here to help.

At Lightfully, we offer four programs that can help you if you’re showing signs of a breakdown: residential treatment, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also called our Day Treatment Program.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step toward treating your mental breakdown, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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