What’s a nervous breakdown?

Sometimes everything falls apart and you feel completely unable to cope. Does this mean you’re having a nervous breakdown though? Don’t suffer in silence – if life is getting too much there are people who can help.

A young person is sitting on some steps looking at their phone

What is a nervous breakdown?

You may hear the term ‘nervous breakdown’ used all the time. We use it to describe all sorts of situations, from someone who’s hit rock bottom and feels they can’t go on anymore, to just being really stressed out and feeling on the edge.

Yet, medically, ‘nervous breakdowns’ don’t exist. If you go to the doctor or a mental health professional about how you’re feeling, they won’t use the word. They are more likely to use terms such as having a ‘mental health crisis’ or ‘reaching crisis point’. That doesn’t mean you won’t get support though. Whatever you’re feeling and whatever the language, it’s OK to ask for help.

And there’s a lot out there to help.

So what is a mental health crisis?

A mental health crisis usually refers to any situation where a person is at risk of hurting themselves or others. This could be due to not being able to care for themselves or be part of a wider community, or physically trying to hurt themselves or others.

This might sound slightly different to what you think a nervous breakdown might be. However, a nervous breakdown can mean that you withdraw from others or feel a risk to yourself.

How to know if you’re having a nervous breakdown

Because the term nervous breakdown is not a medical term, and is really varied on how it’s used, it can be difficult to know if you’re suffering from a nervous breakdown. This is because the symptoms can vary so much. However, typically a mental health crisis usually has the following symptoms or experiences:

  • Feeling anxious, worried or scared
  • Being negative about everything in your life and feeling low
  • Feeling withdrawn and finding it difficult to get involved in things you would normally do
  • Finding it difficult to leave the house
  • Getting tearful and upset very easily
  • Feeling like your life is out of control, or having thoughts and feelings that are very out of character
  • Having a strong sense of just not feeling your normal self

Support for a mental health crisis or ‘breakdown’

If you’re experiencing several of the symptoms above it may be worth seeking support. Your GP or a reputable mental health charity would be a good first port of call for help and advice. There are lots of online resources that might be helpful for you, and better suited if you’re not ready to talk about it. So, don’t forget we have loads of content on mental health here and that there’s also the NHS website and Mind.

If you do feel like you want a bit more support than articles but you’re not quite ready to visit your GP, then check out our next steps section at the bottom of this article.

Otherwise, if you’re ready and happy to see you GP, they’ll be able to advise on the support available to you and help you get access to that.

How do I talk to my friends and family about my mental health crisis?

The first step really is to be honest about how you’re feeling when you’re asked. Being honest about how you’re feeling and how your mental health is in general conversation will make talking about it seem less like an event to plan for and will let conversation naturally flow from there.

Otherwise, you could try telling them while you’re doing something else. Planning an activity, such as going for a walk, will mean there’s other things around you to help with conversation. This might help to take away some of the awkwardness you might feel.

If you’re still worried, you can source some information from trusted websites for your family. This should help support them in understanding how you’re feeling. That way you can tell them how you’re feeling and then pass them some information on what that means and how they can support.

If you’re still unsure, you can always practice talking about your mental health with us on our free helpline, which is open everyday from 4pm, or visit our community to type up your thoughts.

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly

Updated on 06-Aug-2020