Mental health conditions can be complex and confusing. A wide range of terms and phrases exist for specific disorders and symptoms, and remembering every single one can often be challenging. However, knowing the fundamental differences can help you identify a situation and seek help faster.
Almost everyone has heard the term nervous breakdown. It describes extreme stress from challenging experiences or situations you may be unable to cope with. However, some use it interchangeably with the term “psychotic break.” While they sound similar, they are certainly not the same. This article explores what makes a nervous breakdown different from a psychotic break.
A nervous breakdown, also known as a mental breakdown, is frequently used to describe a state of intense emotional or mental distress. While it’s not a medical term nor a diagnosis, it can represent a range of mental health conditions that can cause significant disruption in an individual’s life. Reaching the point of a nervous breakdown varies from person to person, as stress levels, traumatic events, and the ability to cope are different for each individual.
While healthcare providers no longer use mental breakdown to explain mental illnesses, it’s usually an indicator of underlying medical or psychiatric conditions that requires prompt medical attention.
Causes of a Nervous Breakdown
A nervous breakdown is a complex condition that can have multiple contributing factors. Although stress is frequently cited as a common trigger for these mental health episodes, other factors, such as chronic illness or physical health issues, can also significantly contribute to distress and increase the risk of experiencing a nervous breakdown.
A few of the most common triggers of a nervous breakdown include the following:
- Social and political unrest
- Trauma, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Natural disasters such as wildfires, floods, and the most recent COVID-19
- Loss of a loved one
- Breakdown of relationships (divorce or loss of a child through custody)
- Loss of job or financial difficulties
- Academic pressure and responsibilities
- Experiencing a mass shooting
- Planning a major life event such as a wedding
Some people are more likely to experience an emotional breakdown than others due to a number of risk factors, including:
- Working in a high-pressure, high-stake setting such as in medicine
- Possessing a pessimistic outlook toward life
- Lack of support system or reliable relationships
- Being a high-achiever or perfectionist
- Experiencing burnout (parental, academic, or financial)
Stress is inevitable in daily life, but excessive stress and ineffective coping mechanisms can lead to a mental breakdown. Such an experience can be overwhelming and traumatic. However, there are ways to prevent it. By learning to recognize symptoms, adopting effective stress management techniques, and seeking professional support, you can reduce the risk of a breakdown and improve your mental health and well-being.
Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown
The symptoms can vary depending on the individual and the underlying cause, but some common signs of a nervous breakdown may include the following:
- Feelings of anxiety, depression, or irritability
- Feeling emotionally and physically drained
- Withdrawn from society
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue
- Changes in eating habits or weight changes
- Inability to keep up with tasks
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of enjoyment in activities once liked
- Difficult concentrating or making decisions
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Loss self-esteem
- Poor personal hygiene and self-care
- Sudden mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
It’s crucial to remember that these symptoms can also be signs of other mental health conditions, and a definitive diagnosis necessitates a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek help from a qualified mental health professional or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as soon as possible.
A psychotic break, also known as a sudden onset of psychosis or psychotic episode, is a severe mental health condition characterized by a loss of touch with reality. During a psychotic break, a person may experience delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking or speech. Delusions are beliefs that are not based on reality and are often very strange or unlikely. Hallucinations are experiences that feel real but are not actually happening, such as hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there. Disorganized thinking or speech can make it difficult for a person to communicate and can lead to their thoughts becoming disorganized and difficult to follow.
A psychotic break is a mental health emergency triggered by various factors, including extreme stress, trauma, drug use, or a mental health condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that approximately 100,000 adolescent Americans are diagnosed with psychosis each year. Three out of every 100 people will experience a psychotic episode at some stage in their lives.
Causes of a Psychotic Break
The exact causes of a psychotic break are not fully understood, but it’s believed that a combination of genetics, biological and environmental factors can contribute to the increased likelihood of experiencing one.
A psychotic break, or a sudden onset of psychosis, can be caused by various factors. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Mental illness – Psychotic breaks are often associated with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression.
- Substance abuse – Substance abuse, particularly drugs such as LSD, marijuana, and amphetamines, can trigger a psychotic break.
- Trauma or stress – A traumatic event or extreme stress can trigger a psychotic break in people who are susceptible to psychosis.
- Sleep deprivation – A lack of sleep over an extended period of time can lead to psychosis.
- Medical conditions – Some medical conditions, such as brain tumors, infections, or autoimmune disorders, can cause a psychotic break.
- Genetics – A family history of psychosis or mental illness can increase the risk of a psychotic break.
- Hormonal changes – Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, or menopause can also contribute to the onset of a psychotic break.
It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences these factors will necessarily have a psychotic break. However, if someone is at risk due to these factors, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs and seek professional help if needed.
Symptoms of a Psychotic Break
Symptoms of psychotic breaks vary depending on the underlying cause and other personal factors. Initial onset psychosis, better known as first-episode psychosis (FEP), rarely appears unexpectedly. There is often a gradual build-up of distorted thoughts and perceptions that the individual may experience but be unaware of. While it’s hard to specify the exact onset of psychosis, a combination of the following signs and symptoms may be indicative of a psychotic breakdown:
- Disorganized thinking
- Disorganized behavior
- Emotional instability
- Social withdrawal
Following a psychotic breakdown, an individual’s mind may reach a point of overload wherein it becomes unresponsive. This is called catatonia and is often the brain’s defense mechanism to safeguard you from potential harm during an episode.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of psychosis or a psychotic break, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
The Key Difference Between a Nervous Breakdown and a Psychotic Break
A nervous breakdown and psychotic break are terms often used to describe a severe mental health crisis, but they refer to different types of conditions. A nervous breakdown or a stress-induced breakdown is not a recognized clinical term. Still, it’s often used to describe a period of intense stress and overwhelming emotions that can lead to physical and mental exhaustion. A psychotic break, on the other hand, is a term used to describe a severe mental health crisis that involves a loss of touch with reality. A person experiencing a psychotic break may have difficulty distinguishing what is real from what is not, and their behavior may become erratic and unpredictable.
The key difference between a nervous breakdown and a psychotic break is that a nervous breakdown is a response to intense stress and emotions that can lead to physical and mental exhaustion. In contrast, a psychotic break involves a loss of touch with reality and severe disruptions in thought, behavior, and perception.
The treatment for a nervous breakdown and a psychotic break can vary depending on the underlying causes and individual circumstances. However, both conditions typically require professional help from a mental health provider.
Treatment for a Nervous Breakdown
Treatment may involve a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes for a nervous breakdown. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or talk therapy, can help a person identify and manage the sources of their stress and develop coping strategies to handle stressful situations better. Medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed to help manage symptoms. Lifestyle changes may include practicing stress-management techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, exercise, and a balanced diet to improve overall physical and mental well-being.
Treatment for a Psychotic Break
Treatment may involve hospitalization to ensure safety and stability, followed by ongoing medication management and therapy. Antipsychotic medications may be prescribed to help manage symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or family therapy, may also be used to help the person understand and manage their symptoms and develop coping strategies.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a mental breakdown or psychotic break, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Early intervention can help prevent symptoms from worsening and improve the chances of long-term wellness.
Turning Point Centers is committed to bringing you the best mental health care. Our highly-skilled multidisciplinary team of mental health professionals works together to curate a treatment plan catering to all your individual needs. We also take great pride in ensuring our clients enjoy a safe and comfortable environment during their experience with us.