Everybody experiences stress and anxiety on a daily basis, though usually at levels that are manageable. When stress and feelings of worry or anxiety build up to a level that has an impact on a person’s daily life, they may be described as having a nervous breakdown.
A nervous breakdown, also known as a mental health crisis, is a form of anxiety disorder. ‘Nervous breakdown’ is not a medical term, since it does not describe a specific condition. It’s more of a general term that is often used conversationally to describe someone who is obviously not coping with stress, worry or anxiety, and it has got out of hand.
A nervous breakdown can be triggered by a specific event that causes someone extreme stress, such as trauma or the death of a loved one. However, it can also be the product of a gradual build-up of stress, commonly arising from pressures related to work, relationships or financial difficulties - divorce or unemployment may be factors. Worry, stress and anxiety can build up over a long period of time and reach a point where a person is no longer able to cope or perform their normal daily tasks.
If you don’t deal with a crisis, it can lead to longer lasting mental health problems, as well as social and physical problems.
If you are in crisis:
- talk to someone you trust
- make sure you are safe
- think about your strengths and the skills you have to get through this
- seek help, from medication, counselling or support programs
- make a plan for how you are going to manage the situation that is causing you stress
- take care of yourself by eating healthily, getting some exercise and avoiding alcohol and drugs
Where to get help
If you need help, talking to your doctor is a good place to start. If you’d like to find out more or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:
- SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) — call 1800 18 7263.
- beyondblue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
- Black Dog Institute (people affected by mood disorders) — online help.
- Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
- Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467.
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Last reviewed: August 2019