Helping Your Mother Through a Nervous Breakdown

Understanding how to help your mother with a nervous breakdown is tough. But by knowing the warning signs, you can help her enter treatment and begin healing. The path to healing and recovery is sometimes a rough road to walk, but it becomes easier when you travel together.

Anne still remembers the first time she experienced a nervous breakdown, though she never knew to call the feeling by this name. She only knew that she felt completely overwhelmed, as if there would never be enough time for everything that needed to be done.

She tossed and turned all night, and snapped at loved ones during the day without meaning to. Her stomach felt knotted up and she became forgetful about the small things, like remembering to brush her hair or her teeth. She felt lost, and it seemed to take forever for things to return back to normal. This was the first time this happened—but it wasn’t the last.

Watching a loved one suffer from mental health issues is heartbreaking, and this couldn’t be truer when it’s your mother. But when it comes to nervous breakdowns (which have no concrete medical definition), it can be difficult to know how to approach the situation.

And yet, knowing how to help a loved one with a nervous breakdown is key to her recovery. The first step is to become familiar with the warning signs, symptoms, and possible avenues for treatment. With this knowledge, you can guide her through her struggle and help her receive necessary treatment and begin the process of healing and moving toward recovery.

Know the Warning Signs of a Nervous Breakdown


There are many warning signs that can signify the development of a nervous breakdown. Without knowing what to look for, they can easily slip under your radar. The common signs of a nervous breakdown include:

  • Unexplained feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling overwhelmed or pressured
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Changes in eating, resulting in weight loss or weight gain
  • Increased frequency of unhealthy coping habits (drinking, drug use)
  • Difficulty thinking and concentrating
  • Being uncharacteristically lax about hygiene or appearance
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (upset stomach, diarrhea)

If you notice a cluster of these signs at once, especially if they are persistent, don’t brush them off. By undermining their severity, they can develop into a nervous breakdown. They are defined by social isolation, severe anxiety and depression, depersonalization, hallucinations, mood swings, paranoia, and suicidal ideation, among other symptoms.

Helping Your Mother Enter Treatment


Before you approach your mother about treatment, try to understand what she’s feeling. Be prepared for her to be defensive, and possibly even lash out and say something hurtful. Just remember: she is reacting in this way because she is struggling with a mental health issue. In times of crisis, we are all capable of hurting the ones we love without meaning to. Be gentle, be patient, and above all, be forgiving. Remind her often that you love her, and that you are doing your best to be there for her.

Although Anne is a mother, sometimes she doesn’t want to be. Not because she doesn’t love her children, but because the pressure and stress of being a mother become overwhelming during episodes of mental breakdowns. She experiences them every few months, but has never received treatment. She thinks of them as stressful episodes that are common among mothers, not knowing that in reality, they are signs of deep-rooted mental health issues that need to be addressed.

Stress is regular for any parent, so always bear in mind that your mother might have convinced herself that her episode (s) are completely normal. What you need to do is help her understand that with help, she will not only be able to cope with them better, she can also build up coping mechanism to help decrease their frequency and even prevent them in the future.

  • Stress the flexible nature of treatment. Approaching your mother about mental health treatment can be an extremely tricky situation. This is especially true if she is already on the verge of, or in the midst of, a mental breakdown. Remember that she is from a different generation, when mental health problems were much more stigmatized, and that talking about her struggle may seem just as taxing to her as the struggle itself. Do your best to paint a picture of treatment that overcomes her misconceptions about recovery facilities. Talk to her about how both one-on-one and group therapy are all available treatment modalities. Most of all, remind her that she will not be embarking on this journey alone.
  • Assure her that you’re in this together. Make sure she understands that once treatment begins, you’re not simply going to disappear. Let her know that you will be there to support her throughout the process, and can even participate in it through family therapy.
  • Emphasize the lasting benefits. From mindfulness meditation to yoga, many of the therapies used in recovery can easily be continued after the stay. If your mother is artistic, emphasize the use of pottery in holistic treatment modalities. If she’s spiritual, talk about the use of spiritual development in recovery programs. Many people mistakenly believe that treatment programs are only useful while you’re there, not realizing that the tools and benefits are life-long.

As her child, you wield a special kind of influence in your mother’s life which no one else (besides, perhaps, your siblings) can wield. Yet you must also take extra care when approaching her, as your words carry more weight than those of a friend or acquaintance. By following these guidelines, you can use your influence to its best advantage in order to reignite hope and give your mother the gentle push she needs to understand her own potential for recovery.

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The Path to Healing and Recovery


It can be hard to believe in things like hope or recovery during a nervous breakdown. But with the right guidance and support, your mother can begin to move past her breakdowns and rebuild her life in a comprehensive residential treatment program. With your support, you can help her take those first, crucial steps in this direction, steps which are often the hardest but also the most important. Be there for her, both as her child and as someone who cares deeply about her mental health. Admitting you need help takes strength, as does staying committed to recovery even after treatment is complete. Help her find that strength by being her biggest fan and strongest support, and together you can both move toward a brighter future.

It wasn’t until Anne’s son, Michael, finally recognized her symptoms for what they were and began to talk to her about them that she began to realize these episodes weren’t simply part and parcel of everyday life. She resisted help at first, claiming she was fine, but Michael’s loving and gentle persistence eventually won out, and she agreed, reluctantly, to seek treatment. The road to recovery wasn’t easy, but in the end, she says, it was worth it—for the first time in years, she feels like she has some control in the direction of her life, and she hasn’t suffered another breakdown in over a year.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.