The term "nervous breakdown" is sometimes used to describe a stressful situation in which someone becomes temporarily unable to function normally in day-to-day life. It's commonly understood to occur when life's demands become physically and emotionally overwhelming. The term was frequently used in the past to cover a variety of mental disorders, but it's used less often today.
Nervous breakdown isn't a medical term, however, nor does it indicate a specific mental illness. But that doesn't mean it's a normal or a healthy response to stress. A nervous breakdown may indicate an underlying mental health problem that needs attention, such as depression or anxiety.
Signs of a nervous breakdown vary from person to person and depend on the underlying cause. Exactly what constitutes a nervous breakdown also varies from one culture to another. Generally, it's understood to mean that a person is no longer able to function normally. For example, he or she may:
- Call in sick to work for days or longer
- Avoid social engagements and miss appointments
- Have trouble following healthy patterns of eating, sleeping and hygiene
A number of other unusual or dysfunctional behaviors may be considered signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown.
If you're concerned that you're experiencing a nervous breakdown, get help. If you have a primary care doctor, talk to him or her about your signs and symptoms or seek help from a mental health provider.
Jan. 31, 2014
- Gove WR. The career of the mentally ill: An integration of psychiatric, labeling/social construction, and lay perspectives. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 2004;45:357.
- Parker G. The mechanics of a "breakdown." American Journal of Psychiatry. 2007;164:1646.