What does it mean to have a mental breakdown? It’s something we’ve heard about with celebrities: Kanye West, Tori Spelling, and Pete Davidson are just a few famous names who’ve been in the news for the breakdowns they’ve suffered.
The term mental breakdown, which is synonymous with nervous breakdown, isn’t an actual clinical term, nor does it refer to a specific mental illness. Erin Engle, PsyD, assistant professor of medical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, defined a mental breakdown for Health as “a situation in which a person cannot function normally because of overwhelming stress.” Heather Senior Monroe, MSW, LCSW, director of program development at mental health treatment center Newport Academy, told Prevention, “Some experts classify a mental breakdown as a type of anxiety disorder,” and warned that it’s “usually an indicator of underlying mental health problems that need to be addressed.”
It isn’t only the rich and famous who can find the pressure of daily life gets too much to bear. If you’re feeling beyond stressed, what are some of the signs that can alert you that you might be headed for a breakdown?
You can't sleep (or sleep too much)
If you’re experiencing insomnia on a regular basis, this could be a warning sign that you may be headed for a mental health crisis. Insomnia is not only a symptom of mental distress — you may be lying awake at night ruminating over problems you can’t solve — but also a cause, since sleep, according to Vunela, allows your body to metabolize stress hormones. Missing out on sleep time means your stress levels never get re-set, so you’re already operating on stress overload.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself going to bed earlier and earlier each night but you still can’t drag yourself out of bed in the morning, this is also a danger sign. Over-sleeping is a classic symptom of depression, as you may subconsciously be using sleep as a means to escape.
You can't concentrate
One kind of feeling that may come when you’re right on the verge of a mental breakdown is something that may best be described as a “brain fog” — kind of like you took too much NyQuil, and the space where your brain used to be is now stuffed with cotton balls.
Engle describes the inability to concentrate or think clearly as a cognitive symptom typical of nervous breakdowns. During this phase, you may find yourself unable to make decisions, solve problems, or remember the simplest things, and you may experience feelings of confusion and disorientation.
You can't cope
When you get to the point where dirty dishes start piling up in the sink, emails go unread, or even brushing your teeth seems like a major effort, this is another sign that you’ve hit maximum stress levels and are in desperate need of a break in order to prevent a mental breakdown. At this point, Monroe says, “Even small everyday tasks begin to feel like too much to cope with, and social situations seem overwhelming.”
You may be able to get some balance back into your life by using known stress-busters like yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness (this last-named technique is even Oprah-endorsed!). If you’re past the point where any of these can help, though, you should seek help from a mental health professional as soon as you possibly can. Everyone has the right to be of sound mind as well as body, and this includes proper medical care for all mental as well as physical ailments.
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