A nervous breakdown is often triggered by intense stress and can cause both psychological and physical symptoms. A doctor may recommend talk therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.

A nervous breakdown or mental breakdown is a term that describes a period of intense mental distress or illness that occurs suddenly. During this period, you may be unable to function in your everyday life.

A nervous breakdown can be due to various triggers, including:

This term was once used to refer to a wide variety of mental health conditions, including:

The term nervous breakdown is not a medical term or an official diagnosis of a specific condition. It does not have one agreed-upon definition, but many people use it to describe intense symptoms of stress and an inability to cope with life’s challenges.

What others see as a nervous breakdown can also be an undiagnosed mental health condition.

How to find help for a nervous breakdown

If you think that you or someone you know may be experiencing this, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 800-622-4357. Resources include:

  • a free 24-hour informational helpline
  • information about mental health
  • a treatment services locator
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The signs of a nervous breakdown vary from person to person. The underlying cause can also affect the types of symptoms you experience. You may experience symptoms that are:

  • physical
  • psychological
  • behavioral

The medical community does not use the term nervous breakdown. Instead, they describe the condition using a wide variety of symptoms that tend to appear suddenly.

Changes in mood

Some people may experience mood changes as a result of prolonged stress.

These changes may involve:

Changes in appetite

Stress often leads to changes in appetite. While some people may experience a loss of appetite in response to stress, others may cope with stressful situations by eating more than usual.

Changes in sleep pattern

High levels of stress can cause difficulties falling or staying asleep for some people. Others may find that high stress causes them to sleep more than usual.

Sleep disorders also often occur alongside certain mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

Additionally, poor sleep quality and insomnia can interfere with your ability to function and may contribute to or exacerbate symptoms of mental health conditions.


High amounts of stress can cause feelings of tiredness and fatigue. Not only that, but certain issues associated with stress, such as poor sleep, can also contribute to low energy levels and exhaustion.

Difficulty concentrating

Some research suggests that stress can cause changes to the function and structure of the brain, which could affect memory and concentration.

High levels of stress may also adversely affect learning, making it more difficult to perform at work or school.


People experiencing a nervous breakdown may also withdraw from family, friends, and coworkers. Signs of withdrawal may include:

  • avoiding social functions and engagements
  • eating and sleeping poorly
  • maintaining poor hygiene
  • calling in sick to work for days or not showing up to work at all
  • isolating yourself in your home

Experiencing a mental health crisis?

If you’re experiencing a crisis, think you may harm yourself or are having thoughts of suicide, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours per day, 7 days per week at 800-273-8255.

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Some people might feel like they’re having a breakdown when they’re facing intense stress. Stress can have various triggers, including external influences.

Sources of intense stress might include:

  • recent injury or illness that makes daily life difficult to manage
  • recent traumatic event, such as a death in the family
  • persistent stress at work or school
  • relationship changes, such as a divorce
  • job loss
  • exposure to violence
  • discrimination
  • serious financial issues, such as a home going into foreclosure
  • a major life change, such as a relocation
  • poor sleep
  • chronic medical conditions

If you think you or a loved one might be experiencing a nervous breakdown, make an appointment with a doctor or a mental health professional. Talking with a healthcare professional is especially critical if you’re at risk of hurting yourself or others.

The healthcare professional will likely perform a complete physical exam and discuss any medications you’re taking to determine whether other factors are contributing to your symptoms.

They may then refer you to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist for further evaluation and treatments, which could include:

  • talk therapy
  • medications
  • lifestyle changes

Talk therapy

A doctor may recommend talk therapy to treat your symptoms. One common type of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT has a proven track record for treating anxiety, depression, and other serious mental health conditions. It involves identifying problematic thought patterns and learning coping skills to better navigate challenging situations.


In addition to talk therapy, a doctor may recommend prescription medications to treat symptoms or other diagnosed mental health conditions. This may include antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication.

Lifestyle changes

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of a breakdown, consider these strategies for managing your symptoms:

  • Avoid stimulating beverages: Try to reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake, which may worsen symptoms of mental health conditions and interfere with sleep.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise helps combat stress and improve sleep. Regular physical activity has also been shown to improve the symptoms of many mental health conditions.
  • Consider changing your diet: Eat a nutritious, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
  • Try to get 7 hours of sleep: Develop a bedtime schedule and routine that will help you sleep well. This could involve taking a warm bath, reading a book, or switching off electronic devices an hour before bed.
  • Integrate stress reduction in your schedule: Try to reduce your day-to-day stress level by pacing yourself, taking mini-breaks, or keeping a daily to-do list.
  • Practice stress-reducing techniques: Practicing stress-relieving techniques, such as acupuncture, yoga, or massage therapy, can help improve your symptoms.

You can make these changes on your own, but it may be more helpful to work with a healthcare professional to create a treatment plan that best meets your needs.

Many people experience an inability to cope with life’s stresses at one time or another. However, stress can become a health concern if it begins to interfere with your ability to complete daily tasks.

A nervous breakdown could be a sign of a mental health condition. It’s important for you to see a doctor as soon as you notice signs of a breakdown.

A doctor can help you treat the physical symptoms. They can also refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or another mental health professional who can treat your emotional, mental, and behavioral symptoms.

Caregivers should also contact a doctor as soon as possible if they’re worried about a loved one’s behavior or mental state.

Finding support

If you think you might be having a nervous breakdown, contact a doctor or healthcare professional as soon as possible.

They can help determine the cause, diagnose any health conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms, and refer you to a specialist for further care.

The following organizations can also provide information, support, and referrals to mental health professionals:

A nervous breakdown is also known as a mental breakdown. The term is not an official diagnosis, and the medical community does not use it.

However, some people use it to describe a situation when mental distress suddenly becomes so overwhelming that a person can’t function in their day-to-day life. A nervous breakdown may also signify another underlying mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.

If you think you’re having a nervous breakdown, it’s important to see a doctor or mental healthcare professional as soon as possible. They can help diagnose any mental or physical health conditions and determine underlying causes for a breakdown.

A doctor may refer you to another healthcare professional. They may also provide therapy, medications, or lifestyle recommendations to treat mental health conditions and help you find a healthier way to cope with stress.