There are many different signs that indicate a person may be experiencing a nervous breakdown. While not a medical term, people use this expression when referring to someone who is being overwhelmed by mental health issues.
Some signs relate to a person’s mental state and how they are feeling, or changes in personality. However, physical symptoms are also common. Signs vary from person to person, and can depend upon the underlying cause.
People who feel they are having a nervous breakdown can:
- feel isolated — disinterested in the company of family and friends, or withdrawing from usual daily activities
- feel unable to concentrate — difficulty focusing at work, and being easily distracted
- be moody — feeling low or depression; feeling burnt out; emotional outbursts of uncontrollable anger, fear, helplessness or crying
- feel depersonalised — not feeling like themselves or feeling detached from situations
- have hallucinations — vivid flashbacks of a stressful or traumatic event can be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder — you should discuss any hallucinations or flashbacks with a doctor or counsellor
- feel paranoid — believing someone is watching or stalking you
- have thoughts of self-harm — if you have thoughts of self-harm, get professional help immediately
Physical symptoms can include:
- insomnia — when you have a lot on your mind it can be difficult to sleep, or sleep can be disrupted
- exhaustion — difficulty sleeping or anxiety can make you feel exhausted and lacking the energy to face routine tasks
- frequent illnesses — exhaustion can leave you susceptible to infections
- headaches — headaches and dizzy spells
- muscle pain — sore and stiff muscles, particularly in the jaw, neck or back from muscle tension
- bowel problems — stomach cramps and irregular bowel movements
- racing heart — feeling like your heart is racing, tightness across the chest or a lump in your throat, which can make it seem difficult to breathe (a panic attack)
- sweats — hot or cold flushes and clammy hands
People who are experiencing a nervous breakdown may avoid social functions, call in sick for work and isolate themselves at home. They may not be eating or sleeping properly, and they may not look after their personal hygiene.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is experiencing a nervous breakdown, it is important to seek help and to see a doctor or counsellor.
Not sure what to do next?
If you or someone you know is finding it difficult to manage mental health issues, try healthdirect’s Symptom Checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.
The Symptom checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
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Last reviewed: August 2019