What to Do When Your Son or Daughter is Having a Nervous Breakdown

Because we don’t always know what our adult sons and daughters are thinking or feeling, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown, and to understand exactly what it is, so that you can get them the help they need. This help will often involve comprehensive therapy, which can help them address the roots of their breakdown and get back to leading the life they deserve.

“It wasn’t like this when we were kids”, Kathryn said. “I was worried about boys and homework, but at least I could sleep at night. I could play. I don’t know, maybe that’s why Tom… got sick.”

Tom didn’t just get sick. Kathryn’s son had what is generally called a nervous breakdown, caused when someone is unable to deal with what feels like an overwhelming amount of stress or pressure. This is a mental and physical challenge for anyone, but especially for college students. And as the parent of a 20-something adult, it can be hard to know what to do when your adult son or daughter is having a nervous breakdown.

People suffer nervous breakdowns for a variety of reasons, mostly due to stresses and pressures. A parent needs to recognize the signs of a nervous breakdown to lessen its impact or to avoid it, and avoid the dangers of a prolonged case. Like Kathryn, you can’t protect your children from everything, especially not now that they’re adults. But you can take the time to understand what they are going through, and work with them to get them the help they need.

What a Nervous Breakdown Is


When figuring out what to do when your son or daughter is having a nervous breakdown, it is important to recognize that there is no one thing that’s a “nervous breakdown.” That isn’t strictly a clinical term. It’s a description of a very particular kind of mental health crisis.

The crisis is brought on by stress, whether that is from a relationship, from work, from finances, from politics, or just the weird pressure of existence. A person in a nervous breakdown feels these pressures and stresses acutely, feeling frayed and unable to cope. This leads to the person having challenges existing in their day-to-day life, in handling work, school, or other aspects of life.

Though it is not a precise medical condition, it is an actual crisis for the person suffering from it. The fear involved in a nervous breakdown can feel overwhelming, even paralyzing. Some nervous breakdowns include psychotic symptoms. It is also true that there are often (though not always) underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to their breakdown, such as acute anxiety or depression.

What does this mean for your son or daughter? It could mean serious emotional, physical, and social dangers.

Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Nervous Breakdown


Nervous breakdowns manifest differently for different people. A nervous breakdown could last a few hours or as long as a few weeks. The longer it lasts, the more havoc it can wreak on your son’s or daughter’s mental and physical wellbeing. Some of the short-and-long-term risks include:

  • Malnutrition and weight loss caused by not eating—or, unhealthy weight gain caused by “stress eating”
  • Inability to fulfill functions at school or work
  • Illness and general malaise coming from lack of self-care and neglecting hygiene
  • Sleep-related issues, including insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Suicidal ideation or self-harm

Separately, each of these can be a challenge to cope with. When combined, they compound each other and exacerbate feelings of helplessness and overwhelm. That’s why it is important for you to be able to recognize the warning signs of a nervous breakdown in your son or daughter so that you can help them find their way back out of that downward spiral.

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Understanding the Signs of a Nervous Breakdown


How do you recognize what a nervous breakdown is? There are many signs that can give you clues your son or daughter is beginning to move from the normal stresses of a college student’s daily life versus someone having an acute mental health crisis. These signs include:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Severe anxiety
  • Falling behind on work
  • Missing events (including school)
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Feeling depressed or not like themselves

So what can you do if you believe your adult child is indeed suffering from a nervous breakdown? In most cases, comprehensive treatment offers the best way to pave the path to recovery for your son or daughter.

The Benefits of Comprehensive Therapy When Your Son or Daughter is Having a Nervous Breakdown


Watching her son Tom move back and forth from disengagement to wild outbursts and relentless crying jags, Kathryn felt bewildered and frightened for her son. She knew he needed help, but wasn’t sure how to support him. That’s when a friend of hers recommended comprehensive residential therapy.

In a residential program (which included an especially helpful family component), Kathryn and Tom were able to work together to untangle the stresses that had pushed him into his nervous breakdown. With the help of licensed therapists and the support of his peers, he learned how to identify triggers, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and recognize the warning signs before a breakdown fully takes hold. Kathryn, meanwhile, learned more about what her son was going through, and gathered the tools she needed to help him and support him going forward.

Try as we might, most of us can’t read our sons’ and daughters’ minds. We won’t always be able to know what is in their hearts. But we can pay attention to them, learn to recognize the signs of a nervous breakdown, and work with them in comprehensive therapy to learn how to cope and find a better way forward, together.


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 programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to healing.