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Signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown

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:

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).


Mayo Clinic (Depression - Major depressive disorder), Symptom find (Signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown), beyondblue (Anxiety signs and symptoms), Healthline (How to recognize and treat the symptoms of a nervous breakdown)

Last reviewed: August 2017

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