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Nervous breakdown

2-minute read

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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2019

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