Recognizing a Nervous Breakdown in Your Partner

A nervous breakdown is a mental or emotional crisis that calls for serious attention and treatment, especially when mental illness may be involved. Find out how you can recognize whether your partner is experiencing a nervous breakdown and what are the next best steps toward mental and emotional recovery.

It’s true that the phrase “nervous breakdown” is thrown around liberally in popular culture and common gossip. But the crisis is real for many, and talking about the experience openly and practically is valuable. It is a common and avoidable tragedy that people suffer burnout and mental illness without accessing the relief and support that awaits them in professional treatment.

If you think your partner may be experiencing a mental or emotional breakdown, you can help to ensure that they do not suffer alone. Recognizing a nervous breakdown is a fitting task from your vantage point because you are familiar with your partner’s habits, moods, and behaviors over time, and you can recognize when things change and they exhibit unfamiliar symptoms that may point to something serious. A nervous breakdown is a period of crisis that demands out awareness and opens the door to discovering underlying pressures and potential mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or complicated grief. It is an opportunity for your partner to explore what is and isn’t working in their life and health and self-care.

How Can You Recognize a Nervous Breakdown?


You’re an important ally in your partner’s journey toward health. In the early stages of a mental or emotional crisis, you are in a position to recognize changes that may point to larger concerns. Changes in any of the following may be a red flag that something may be amiss and a breakdown may be imminent (or already taking hold):

  • sleeping habits
  • energy levels and fatigue
  • memory
  • attention
  • organization
  • appetite
  • weight
  • substance use
  • mood
  • hygiene and grooming habits
  • desire to socialize
  • reactions to daily events and interactions
  • sexual function
  • gastrointestinal health
  • breathing
  • experience of headaches or muscle aches

Especially if you can check off more than one of these items, there may be reason for concern. At the very least, stress or anxiety levels may be high. But even stress and anxiety can have serious consequences for someone’s mental and overall health.

In the midst of a nervous breakdown, a person may lose their ability to function normally, even with simple everyday tasks that have been routine for years. Generally, a nervous breakdown is the product of too much stress and no way to manage it—not enough healthy coping strategies and support. But there may certainly be a mental illness also contributing to the crisis your partner faces.

No two crises will look exactly alike. An individual’s breaking point will be informed by their particular collection of burdens and stress—perhaps from work, school, divorce or other relationship pressure, grief and loss, family responsibilities, financial hardship, unreasonable expectations and criticism, or abuse or other trauma. Their stress may have been building up over a long period of time, or it might have been a quick and heavy barrage. They may be without accessible support, or they may have help at the ready but experience resistance or other personal barriers to coping successfully with the stress they face.

A nervous breakdown will often fall under one of three types:

  1. Burnout syndrome that may or may not be related to work stress. Under enormous life pressure, people will run into a wall of exhaustion and fatigue. Their performance in work and life will likely suffer. And they may even lose interest in their commitments, distancing and depersonalizing from their roles in life.
  2. A breakdown that involves psychotic symptoms. It’s possible for stress to be severe enough that it triggers psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, or depersonalization and detachment from reality. A psychotic breakdown may be linked to an underlying mental illness, such as schizophrenia or shizoaffective disorder, or it may stem from excessive stress alone.
  3. A breakdown with underlying anxiety or depression. When depression or anxiety disorder exist and the host of stressors is intense, your partner may face a very serious crisis. They may experience panic attacks, which can bring a range of frightening physical symptoms. Depression or major depression may result in suicidal ideation and attempts.

Whatever type of nervous breakdown your spouse or partner is experiencing, it is critical that their stress level is minimized, any underlying conditions are treated, and they develop healthy coping strategies for lasting mental and emotional health.

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What Are the Next Steps Toward Your Partner's Recovery?


If you’re recognizing that your partner is having a nervous breakdown, it doesn’t mean they are crazy. It’s doesn’t mean they are bound to a life of sickness. But it does mean that it’s time for a clinical assessment. The sooner any mental illness can be identified or ruled out, the sooner your partner can get started on a proper treatment plan—and the sooner you can recover your life and find balance together again.

A treatment facility offers everything from assessment and diagnosis to medication management to holistic therapies to after-treatment support. Wherever you seek support, your next step is to help your partner get connected with a clinician for an expert assessment of their symptoms. You may be able to help in the process by offering your observations of how their health and lifestyle have been affected over time. This assessment will help to determine whether your partner may need outpatient services or comprehensive residential treatment to address their overall health and get them ready for an active recovery journey.

Anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication may be helpful, depending on the clinician’s assessment. And therapy will be fundamentally important to identify the major stressors and triggers that stimulated the breakdown and to actively develop coping strategies your partner can take into the future. Especially if they have reached any level of detachment during this breakdown, therapy can help them reconnect with themselves, with life, with you. This won’t be the last time they will encounter heavy mental or emotional stress, but—with the right help—it can be the last time it breaks them. There is no reason to keep pushing and piling on the pressure when professional and treatments can effectively reduce and manage stress.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for mental health disorders as well as process addictions and phase of life issues. 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 healing.