Updated on 07/03/23

Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC

The term “mental breakdown” has been growing increasingly popular throughout the last several decades. When people say they are having a mental breakdown, they are referring to the experience of intense emotional and mental distress. It can occur suddenly or build up over time. Regardless, mental breakdowns can contribute to limited and reduced functioning, especially as they are happening.

Mental breakdowns can happen to anyone at any time. While they often have a direct trigger, some come on without any direct or known cause. Since these experiences can cause distressing symptoms, it is important to know of resources and coping mechanisms to both prevent and manage mental breakdowns.

Mental breakdowns are a type of mental health crisis.

While everyone experiences stress from the pressures of daily life and beyond, most people are fairly adept at managing their stress levels. However, some people are not able to manage their stress appropriately. They may either ignore it or let it accumulate until it reaches a level so high that it interferes with their ability to complete tasks. When stress reaches an all-time high, individuals frequently refer to the experience as having a mental breakdown.

Mental breakdowns, also known as nervous breakdowns, are a type of mental health crisis. Although these terms do not describe a specific mental health condition, they may be used conversationally to help others understand that a person is experiencing distress.

Risk factors and warning signs of mental breakdowns.

There are many warning signs and symptoms that can point to a potential nervous breakdown. If an individual is already struggling with their mental health, they are at higher risk of experiencing a breakdown. An individual should seek out professional help as soon as symptoms appear.

Risk factors that may lead to a mental breakdown include:

  • Unresolved trauma
  • Substance use
  • Lack of social support
  • Social isolation
  • Exhaustion
  • Poor impulse control
  • Sudden or unexpected experiences of grief and loss
  • The presence of mental health problems
  • Depressed mood
  • Physical ailments
  • Frequent worrying
  • Difficulty adjusting to home or work life

There are also various warning signs that may surface in someone who may be experiencing a mental breakdown. These warning signs include:

  • Delusions or depersonalization
  • Hallucinations or flashbacks
  • Uncontrollable paranoia
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Extreme changes in mood
  • Intense depressed mood
  • Malnutrition
  • Racing heart
  • Hot/cold flashes and severe perspiration
  • Bowel problems
  • Exhaustion

Mental breakdowns can increase the risk of substance use.

Mental breakdowns are incredibly unpleasant experiences. In an attempt to resolve their distress, many people may turn to alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate. Some people view this as a way to solve their own mental health problems. However, substance use usually exacerbates mental health problems. Not only do self-medicating practices lead to chemical dependency and addiction, they also alter brain structure and functioning in such a way that perpetuates distressing mental health symptoms.

Luckily, there are several treatment interventions and strategies that can help an individual experiencing a mental breakdown. Increasing awareness of them can help prevent individuals from turning to alcohol and other drugs to cope with distress and encourage them to fall back on healthier coping mechanisms.

Use mindfulness strategies to prevent a mental breakdown and lower the risk substance use.

The same strategies can be used to prevent mental breakdowns before they occur and resolve a mental breakdown as it is happening. Unfortunately, many people do not take advantage of these strategies until they have already reached the peak of their crisis. Still, these strategies can help keep an individual grounded in their own environment and allow them to work through the emotions they have pent up inside.

Mindfulness meditation encourages awareness of the present moment.

This is one technique that may only be helpful during times of accumulated stress, rather than unexpected experiences of grief or loss. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being fully aware of the present moment. It is an all-encompassing term that includes practices such as mindful breathing, loving-kindness meditation and the general state of being mindful.

Engaging in mindfulness meditation starts with focusing solely on one’s breathing. Individuals should bring awareness to what is happening around them as well as how they are feeling inside. Next, individuals can notice their thoughts. If they find themselves ruminating, return attention back to their breath. Focus on using tactics such as non-judgment, compassion and gratitude.

View a mental breakdown as a sign to seek addiction treatment.

If mindfulness strategies fail, or if an individual continues to experience mental breakdowns, view them as a sign to seek professional treatment. There are numerous treatment options available to help overcome emotional distress and mental health crises. Aside from individual psychotherapy or behavioral therapy, group interventions, family programs, educational programs and even recreational programs can help individuals work through stress in a healthy and beneficial way. Contact your local treatment center to learn more about your treatment options.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is an alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility dedicated to helping patients achieve and sustain lifelong recovery from substance use. We can identify and treat the underlying causes that led you to use substances while helping you replace those habits with healthier coping mechanisms. We recognize that treatment and recovery can be intimidating, which is why we provide a comfortable and supportive atmosphere for healing. Call us today at (877) 557-5372.