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What is a Mental Breakdown?

M.C. Huguelet
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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While the term mental breakdown is commonly used, it is not actually a medically recognized designation, and therefore can potentially refer to a number of different psychological symptoms and conditions. It is often intended, however, to indicate a collapse of one’s mental stability, which may occur in response to one or more external crises. The symptoms of such a collapse can vary widely, but may resemble those of depression and anxiety disorders, and usually pose a major interruption to one’s normal life. Those who feel they are experiencing a breakdown of their mental stability should seek medical treatment immediately.

Mental breakdown is not a medical term, and consequently it has no exact definition. Outside the medical community, however, the term is often understood to mean a collapse of one’s mental stability, often which has occurred in response to an external crisis or series of crises. Events which can spur this kind of psychological collapse might include job stress, unemployment, divorce, the death of a loved one, or financial troubles.

Since mental breakdown is not actually a specific, medically defined condition, it is difficult to describe its exact symptoms. In the minds of many, in fact, this type of breakdown is not characterized by a fixed list of symptoms, but rather by the severity of an individual’s symptoms. That is to say, a mental breakdown is distinguished from other mental health difficulties in that a breakdown causes a major disruption of the sufferer’s normal life. A sufferer may, for instance, suddenly abandon all personal relationships or feel unable to leave the house.

Like nervous breakdown, the term mental breakdown can often be a euphemism which is used instead of proper mental health disorder names in order to avoid causing offense, embarrassment, or discomfort. What is referred to as a mental breakdown is often in fact a severe case of depression. A flare-up of an anxiety disorder may also be mistakenly labeled a breakdown.

Those who feel they are experiencing a collapse of their mental stability should seek medical attention as soon as possible. A physician or psychiatrist can diagnose any underlying mental health conditions which may be lumped under the generic breakdown label. Medical experts can also provide the support necessary to help the breakdown sufferer address his psychological issues and return to his normal life when ready. Treatment can vary widely, but may include one-on-one or group therapy sessions, a stay at a rehabilitation facility, or medication.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
M.C. Huguelet
By M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide range of publications, including The Health Board. With degrees in Writing and English, she brings a unique perspective and a commitment to clean, precise copy that resonates with readers. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By anon250056 — On Feb 24, 2012

I need help since my dad passed away.

By anon174078 — On May 09, 2011

My son, 30, has cut off all contact from our family and his only son, who is 13. This has been going on for a year. He's with a woman who is very jealous of his relationships and everyone blames her. However, my son mentioned last year that he felt he was having a mental breakdown.

I've visited him twice, at work and at home. He keeps saying he doesn't know where to start and has lots of issues over my divorce 20 years ago.

He said he didn't like "being carted around" i.e., visitation, but never said so. Now he says he's not seeing his son because it's "better to be with one parent or the other."

The whole family is upset. He broke up with this girl last year and got an apartment for a while, on his dad's advice. Now he says it was the worst advice he ever got, and he'd rather be shoveling crap than doing his current job, always feels like a loser and just wants to be treated like another guy in the family, not one that gets so much attention.

He's also cut off all contact with friends. He is paying child support, but I'm worried about him and the effect of this on his child (my grandson). I have a daughter who's 28 and doing well. He says he's "on medication." He didn't say what he's on, but he's put on weight.

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide...
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