Nervous breakdowns

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.

Girl looking anxious

Feeling like it's all too much to cope with?

What’s 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’.

Whatever you’re feeling and whatever the word, it’s OK to ask for help.

“Although the word ‘breakdown’ sounds very scary and might suggest that life is falling apart, the feelings won’t last forever,” says Beth Murphy from mental health charity Mind. “It’s actually just a word that people use to express that things have become very difficult and they need some help.”

Am I having a nervous breakdown?

Symptoms vary from person to person, as does the idea of what a mental health crisis *is*. But common experiences include:

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  • Feeling withdrawn and finding it difficult to get involved in things you would normally do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

“Generally, when people talk about having a breakdown, what they mean is the feelings they are experiencing are so intense and so scary, they really cannot cope with things anymore,” says Beth.

I feel like I’m falling apart, what should I do?

If you’re experiencing several of the symptoms above it may be worth seeking support.

“If the overwhelming thoughts and feelings have been going on for two weeks and longer, it’s important to speak to someone,” says Beth. “Everyone has ups and downs and the odd day where they don’t feel great, but if it’s been going on for a couple of weeks or more, it’s worth getting help.”

How do I get help for what I’m going through?

Your doctor or a reputable mental health charity would be a good first port of call for help and advice.

Beth recommends reading up a bit on different mental health issues before you go see your doctor. Trusted sites like NHS Choices, Mind, or The Mix are good places to go first.

“This will help you to understand a little about the symptoms you may be experiencing and you can discuss these with your GP,” says Beth. “It’s good to prepare as you do only have 10 minutes in that initial appointment.”

Some people are very anxious about seeing their doctor and don’t feel confident discussing how they feel. If your GP seems a bit too scary right now there are other services you can use – look at the Next Steps section at the bottom of this article.

“No matter how scary asking for help sounds, it’s the first step to recovery, feeling better again and getting your life back on track,” says Beth.

Should I tell my family and friends how I feel? Will they understand?

It can be very daunting to speak to family and friends about what you’re going through. However, having support from your loved ones is very important in recovering.

“Our experience is that when people do talk about how they’re feeling, the response is positive,” says Beth. “Most people find their family and friends are very supportive because they know who you are and they know that the way you’re feeling is out of character.”

How can I tell them?

There are many ways to help you start the ‘I feel like I’m having a breakdown’ conversation. If you can’t find the right words, then arm yourself with information for them.

“You can use this as an opening to let them know you’ve been struggling or feeling low. Tell them you have some information about depression for them and ask if you can talk about it together,” says Beth.

Drop it into conversation – letting family and friends know how you feel as part of a general chat can also be a good introduction. When you’re asked how you feel or how things are going, be honest and let the conversation flow naturally from there.

Or you could try telling them while you’re doing something else – go for a walk or do an activity with family and friends. “It can be difficult when you’re sitting down and facing one another. Talking about how you feel while walking side by side can make it easier,” says Beth. “Once you open up to the right person, it always makes it better.”

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
  • 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 Julie Penfold

Updated on 29-Sep-2015