Mental Breakdown Treatment

People who experience stress or anxiety for a prolonged period may break down under the strain, suffering emotional and psychological symptoms of deep distress that need to be dealt with in therapy. Inpatient treatment programs are especially effective in helping those who’ve suffered a mental breakdown restore their good health, and with a committed plan for healing recovery is possible and future incidents can be averted.

Under heavy or constant stress, people may become engulfed by strong and relentless anxiety. In other instances, the symptoms of a previously-existing mental health condition may begin to run out of control, reaching an intensity that can be scary and overwhelming.

At some point, men and women under this type of duress may suffer a severe emotional or psychological meltdown that leaves them partially or completely unable to function. This type of acute reaction is known as a mental breakdown, and it can cause deep distress for sufferers and their loved ones alike.

A mental breakdown, which is also known as a nervous breakdown, is not an officially recognized mental health disorder. But the symptoms it produces are fierce, disabling, and all too real.

What Does It Feel Like to Suffer a Mental Breakdown?

The early signs of a mental breakdown are subtle, mimicking relatively normal states of emotional upset. In life, people routinely experience sustained or prolonged periods of stress and anxiety, which can cause side effects like insomnia, weight loss, low energy, or a decline in work performance.

But the symptoms of a mental breakdown are more extensive and inclusive, and after a few days or weeks it will become obvious that something serious is going on.

One of the distinctive signs of an impending nervous breakdown is the sudden onset of strange physical symptoms. Chronic stress and anxiety can cause a variety of vague and mysterious physiological reactions, which can lead to fatigue, stomach problems, breathing difficulties, muscle aches and/or headaches, and other symptoms familiar to people who’ve been diagnosed with anxiety disorders.

In addition to the physical symptoms, disturbing emotional and psychological side effects of extreme stress and anxiety will also begin to manifest if a nervous breakdown is near. Extreme mood swings that send sufferers careening from fits of crying to bursts of jubilation can occur, along with restlessness, agitation, paranoia, and nervousness that seems disconnected from real-world sources. People besieged by stress may struggle to stay focused or to complete even simple tasks, and as the internal pressure builds their behavior may become more confusing, irrational, or illogical.

On the verge of a breakdown, people may experience episodes of dissociation, which create a sense of deep, existential separation from the world, from other people, or from the sufferer’s own mind and body. As reality drifts away, delusions and visual or audio hallucinations may manifest, although this is an extreme symptom that not all nervous breakdown sufferers will experience.

Once the nervous breakdown occurs, functioning will become next to impossible, and at that point mental health intervention will be needed to help the individual get back on their feet.

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Care and Treatment for Nervous Breakdowns

Causes of a Nervous Breakdown

There are a number of predictors of a nervous breakdown, any of which could push a person over the edge. Pinning down the causes of a nervous breakdown may be essential before treatment can proceed, since the triggers of high anxiety must be identified before they can be managed or avoided.

Some of the well-known causes of a mental breakdown are:

  • Chronic stress. The stress may originate in the workplace, involve tense, dysfunctional or abusive relationships, be associated with other physical or mental health problems, relate to legal or financial troubles, or grow out of inherent personality tendencies.
  • Exposure to trauma. Being a victim of violence or natural disaster, suffering from abuse as a child, grief at a personal loss, or witnessing the intense suffering of other people or animals can cause lasting and significant emotional damage.
  • Genetics and family history. Having a parent with a history of mental illness or mental breakdowns increases the risk for nervous troubles.
  • Guilt or other negative emotions. Being plagued by feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem may be enough to cause a nervous breakdown, especially if the person avoids therapy and keeps their feelings hidden.
  • Major life changes. Problems adjusting to new circumstances can cause a nervous breakdown in some instances, especially if the person affected lacks self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Prolonged social isolation. People who are isolated or alienated, with no family of friends to turn to when difficulties arise, may eventually break down under the strain of their loneliness and desperation.
  • Untreated mental illness. A nervous breakdown can be the inevitable result of a prior mental health disorder that was undiagnosed or left unaddressed.
  • Substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol can cause changes in brain activity and chemistry that increase the risk for serious mental health problems of all types.

Once treatment begins, therapists will work with patients to get to the roots of their stress and anxiety.

Conditions Associated With a Mental Breakdown

If treatment is to be effective following a mental breakdown, it must target all the emotional and behavioral symptoms present, including those associated with any co-occurring mental health conditions.

In many instances, other mental health conditions contribute to nervous breakdowns, usually when life experiences provoke stronger than normal responses or outbreaks of symptoms.

The co-occurring conditions most frequently diagnosed in people who experience a nervous breakdown include:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • High-functioning depression
  • PTSD
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Complicated grief
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder

Substance use disorders are also frequently diagnosed in people who suffer a nervous breakdown. While drug and alcohol abuse can certainly contribute to the onset of serious mental health problems, in most cases it is a response to pre-existing conditions that leave sufferers desperate to find a way to cope.

Treatment Options for a Mental Breakdown

Treatment for a mental breakdown must be sensitive, compassionate, and comprehensive, and it should begin early to help sufferers find peace and stability as quickly as possible.

This type of breakdown is often preceded by a long series of stressful, painful, or discomforting life experiences, all of which must be confronted during psychotherapy and other related interventions. In some instances, emergency treatment may be required if a mental breakdown is severe and highly debilitating, and therapy may have to wait until the patient is prepared to interact.

When people suffering the effects of a nervous breakdown begin therapy, the first step will be to identify the triggering events and ongoing life circumstances that caused the problem. Nervous breakdown sufferers respond to exterior triggers, but they do so within the context of personalities that are prone to stress, and it is important to uncover both the environmental and the personality-based causes of severe anxiety symptoms.

Therapy seeks to deepen self-understanding and self-awareness, which is an essential step to long-term wellness when a nervous breakdown has occurred. Some therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help patients develop strategies or approaches to thinking and acting that can defuse anxiety symptoms before they become acute.

Besides therapy, anti-anxiety medications to reduce nervousness and the physical symptoms of stress may be prescribed, or antidepressants may be prescribed instead if the patient is suffering from depression and/or a co-occurring anxiety disorder. Such co-occurring conditions are common among people who’ve suffered a nervous breakdown, and treatment is unlikely to be effective unless those disorders are uncovered and addressed during treatment.

Lifestyle changes have a significant role to play in recovery from a mental breakdown, and that can include such modifications as improvements in diet, establishing an exercise routine, changes in occupation, complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and additional outside therapy to address any family or interpersonal issues that may be causing chronic tension.

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The Value of Inpatient Treatment for Nervous Breakdown Sufferers

The process of reversing the damage caused by a nervous breakdown, and addressing all the factors involved in its onset, can be long and exhaustive. But it can also be highly successful, if those who’ve suffered a mental breakdown can begin their recovery in a residential mental health treatment facility, supported by trained specialists who understand how healing must proceed.

Inpatient treatment programs for mental breakdowns (or intensive outpatient alternatives) feature a mixture of evidence-based treatment methods, including individual therapy, group therapy and peer group activities, and family therapy sessions that let loved ones play a constructive role in recovery. If medications have been prescribed, their use will be carefully monitored and adjustments made based on the results they produce (or fail to produce).

As a supplement, life skills classes may be offered that can help nervous breakdown sufferers make a well-adjusted return to their families, jobs, and daily responsibilities. Also, holistic healing practices like yoga, biofeedback, acupuncture, medication, massage therapy, and aromatherapy may be included in the healing plan, since individuals who’ve experienced nervous breakdowns need to develop their anxiety and stress management capacities.

Beyond an initial 30- to 90-day inpatient visit, those recovering from a mental breakdown should continue individual, group, and family therapy during their aftercare programs.

Prevention of future problems is the ultimate goal of treatment. With attention to detail, a positive attitude, and the assistance of a network of loving supporters, people in recovery from a nervous breakdown can replace their old, inadequate ways of coping with a more constructive, proactive, and sustainable approach focused on self-care and stress reduction.