How would you react if someone you cared for was experiencing a mental breakdown? Do you know the steps you should take to help them?
Experiencing any psychological breakdown is often traumatic to both the onlooker and the individual. Knowing how to help them can make a significant difference in reducing the severity of the situation. This article explores what causes a mental breakdown, how to recognize the signs and symptoms, and how to help someone experiencing it.
What Is a Mental Breakdown?
Let’s begin by clearly understanding what a mental breakdown is. Sometimes known as a nervous breakdown, a mental breakdown is a mental health crisis characterized by psychological and physical symptoms often following a period of severe mental distress. It can result from prolonged and intense stress or emotional overload, and it can significantly impair a person’s ability to function and think logically.
Although mental breakdown is not a medical or clinical term, it describes an unhealthy reaction to acute stress or traumatic life events. Nervous breakdowns often indicate an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety disorders or major depression.
What Are the Causes of a Mental Breakdown?
The causes of a nervous breakdown can be complex and multifaceted. While stress is often a contributing factor, there can be many other factors that play a role, including:
- Loss of a loved one
- Major life changes
- Financial issues
- Academic pressure or burnout
- Work-related stress
- Past experiences of trauma or abuse
- Sexual or physical assault
- Violent events such as mass shootings
- Underlying mental health disorder
- Diagnosis of a medical condition
- Chronic illness or physical health conditions
- Parental burnout
- Planning a stressful event such as a wedding
It’s important to note that everyone’s experience is unique, and what may trigger a mental breakdown for one person may not affect another in the same way. It’s also possible for a mental breakdown to occur without a clear cause.
The duration of a nervous breakdown can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the symptoms. A nervous breakdown can last anywhere between a few hours to several weeks for some individuals. The longer it lasts, the more dangerous it can be to their physical and mental well-being. While stress is a natural part of daily life, extreme stress can be a vital indicator of a nervous breakdown. Learning how to cope with stress is essential in preventing a nervous breakdown.
What Are the Signs of a Mental Breakdown?
While certain symptoms are specific to certain mental health issues, it’s essential to note that no two people behave the same during a mental breakdown. The symptoms will likely vary depending on their trigger and the underlying cause of the breakdown. However, there are a few common signs and symptoms that may indicate a mental breakdown.
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with daily tasks and responsibilities.
- Extreme mood swings.
- An intense feeling of anxiety or fear is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as clammy hands, shaking, and rapid heartbeat.
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things.
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or oversleeping.
- Changes in appetite or weight.
- Withdrawal from friends and family and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.
- Avoidant behavior, such as avoiding social events and missing appointments.
- Increased irritability, agitation, or anger.
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, or muscle tension.
- Disorganized thinking or speech, such as rambling or incoherent thoughts.
- Unusual or extreme behavior, such as talking to oneself, pacing, or engaging in risky behaviors.
- Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there.
- Believing things that are not based in reality, such as feeling like someone is watching or following you.
It’s important to note that experiencing one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that someone is having a mental breakdown. However, if these symptoms persist and interfere with daily life, it may be a sign that professional help is needed to manage symptoms and promote wellness.
In addition, individuals experiencing a mental breakdown may also exhibit symptoms commonly associated with other mental health conditions, such as panic attacks, delusions, hallucinations, intense paranoia, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It’s important to note that these warning signs and symptoms are often progressive, meaning they may worsen over time if left untreated.
Treatment for a Mental Breakdown
As the cause of a mental breakdown can vary significantly from person to person, the treatment approach also varies. Mental healthcare professionals assess each individual’s symptoms and the severity of the breakdown to determine an appropriate course of action.
Treatment may involve a combination of pharmacological and psychiatric interventions to address the physical and emotional aspects of the breakdown. These interventions may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both. It’s important to work closely with a mental healthcare professional to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses the individual’s unique needs and wellness goals.
Medications are often recommended in conjunction with psychotherapy if an individual is diagnosed with an underlying mental health disorder. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a commonly preferred intervention for those experiencing distress. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a specific form of psychotherapy that is often used to address psychological stress. This type of therapy focuses on identifying and changing irrational and negative thought patterns and helping individuals develop healthy coping strategies to manage stress. CBT is an evidence-based treatment that has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.
How to Help Someone During a Mental Breakdown?
If you are with someone who is experiencing a mental breakdown, there are several ways you can provide support and help:
- Stay calm and patient – Mental breakdowns can be scary and overwhelming for the person experiencing them. It’s important to remain calm and patient with them and try not to escalate the situation with negative or judgmental reactions.
- Listen actively – Listening without judgment is the best thing you can offer someone dealing with severe stress and intense emotions. Lend a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear to make them feel heard and comforted.
- Create a safe environment – Make sure they feel physically and emotionally safe. If they are in an area where they feel triggered, guide them out of there. Remove distractions and any other possible triggers.
- Encourage professional help – Suggest that they seek professional help from a mental health treatment provider. Offer to help them find resources, make an appointment, or accompany them to their appointment.
- Offer practical support – Help with everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, or running errands. Offer to accompany them to social events or activities that they enjoy.
- Avoid criticizing or blaming – Avoid criticizing or blaming the person for their condition or their behavior. This can worsen the situation and damage your relationship.
- Take care of yourself – It’s important to prioritize your own mental health as well. Make sure you take breaks, practice self-care, and seek support from other trusted individuals or professionals if necessary.
Remember, mental breakdowns can be complex and require professional intervention. While providing support and comfort to someone going through a mental breakdown is important, it’s essential to encourage and facilitate them seeking professional help.
What to Do if Someone Is Suicidal?
If an individual displays self-harming behaviors or expresses thoughts of suicide during a nervous breakdown, it’s important to treat it as a mental health emergency. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides immediate support and resources. You can connect with Lifeline by dialing 988 or visiting their website. Trained professionals can help provide guidance and support for those in distress and connect them with appropriate resources and care.
How to Prevent a Mental Breakdown
While traumatic life events or difficult situations cannot be prevented, learning coping strategies to manage intense stress is possible. Many of the self-help strategies for dealing with symptoms of stress involve improving coping skills and implementing lifestyle changes. While there is no foolproof way to prevent a mental breakdown, incorporating these strategies into your daily routine can help improve your mental health and reduce the risk of a breakdown occurring.
Here are steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing one:
- Manage your stress – Chronic stress can take a toll on your mental health. Practice stress-relieving activities such as relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, meditation, or spending time outdoors. Practice self-care set boundaries, and learn to say no when you need to.
- Prioritize your sleep – Getting enough sleep is crucial for maintaining good mental health. Most individuals require seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night.
- Maintain healthy relationships – Social support is important for mental health. Cultivate positive relationships with friends and family, and seek help when needed.
- Avoid substance abuse – Substance abuse can exacerbate mental health issues and increase the risk of developing a mental breakdown. Avoid using drugs and limit alcohol consumption.
- Seek professional help – If you are experiencing symptoms of mental illness or distress, seek help from a mental health care provider. Regular check-ins with a mental health professional can help identify early warning signs and prevent a mental breakdown.
At Turning Point Centers, our multidisciplinary team of highly skilled mental health professionals is equipped to deal with those seeking to address mental breakdowns, substance use disorders, and co-occurring disorders. We work tirelessly to ensure our clients receive the best mental health care by providing them with a safe environment and personalized treatment plans.