How to identify mental breakdown signs and get the right help

Avatar for Mish Khot By in counselling, mental health, psychologist, psychology
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In May this year, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the findings of the third ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 survey. It reported that loneliness was the most common source of personal stress. While most of us are focusing on eating healthy diets and sticking to a workout schedule, it is just as important to maintain our mental health, especially in stressful times. It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of a mental breakdown in yourself or others, so that you can get the right treatment.

What does a mental breakdown look like?

A mental breakdown is an individual instance, not a long-standing condition. It is usually triggered by a specific situation that has become too stressful to manage; for example: a serious illness in the family, a personal crisis, or in most recent times, a global pandemic. A mental breakdown could also be triggered by traumatic memories or unprocessed emotions.

When someone suffers a mental breakdown, they are unable to perform daily functions like going to work, eating, sleeping, or running errands. They may also display other mental breakdown signs such as distancing themselves from others.

In difficult times, it is normal for anyone to feel overwhelmed or to be temporarily confused and unmotivated. However a mental breakdown can have more severe repercussions, so it is imperative that you seek professional help when appropriate.

How to spot mental breakdown signs

signs of mental breakdown

If you or someone close to you is suffering a mental breakdown, it is important to get the appropriate help. Here are the signs you should watch out for:

Neglecting work, social, or personal responsibilities: When someone finds excuses to avoid social gatherings or work, or avoids family and friends, it may be a mental breakdown sign. People experiencing a mental breakdown are not able to perform the interaction and engagement required in such settings, and may prefer to avoid them.

Being unable to perform hygiene functions: A sudden lack of interest in bathing, dressing, and grooming may be a sign of a mental breakdown. The daily functions of hygiene do not seem important to someone who is feeling overwhelmed by the events in their lives, and this may be a good indicator of mental health conditions.

Feeling disinterested in everything: If you notice that you feel dissociated from your loved ones or isolated from events and news in your world, you may be experiencing a mental breakdown. Depersonalisation means not feeling like yourself or not being interested in what is usually important to you. This is one of the most frequently reported mental breakdown signs, and works as a good indicator to your mental health.

Negative emotional symptoms: There are a number of emotional symptoms that can warn you about a mental breakdown. Feeling moody or experiencing unstable emotions, crying a lot or feeling rage for no reason, an inability to concentrate – all these point to a breakdown in coping mechanisms, and may help you identify a deeper issue. 

Negative physical symptoms: A mental breakdown has some physical symptoms too. One might notice a lack of appetite, an inability to sleep, or a feeling of undue fatigue. These symptoms might be important mental breakdown signs.

What should you do if you notice mental breakdown signs?

When someone has received a shock or is dealing with grief, high levels of stress, or a challenging situation, they may display some of the above symptoms. However this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a mental breakdown. But if they are unable to perform daily functions or are a risk to themselves and others, it is important to seek professional help immediately.

In some cases, a person going through an emotionally difficult time just needs to talk to someone who can be patient with them. But if the symptoms seem intense or if you do not know how to respond, it is best to find a professional who can intervene.

How to talk about mental breakdown

how to talk about mental breakdown

Whether you are noticing mental breakdown signs in yourself or someone close to you, you may be reluctant to talk about them. It can be difficult to admit socially that you are having difficulty coping with emotional upheavals. Do remember that feeling vulnerable or upset is nothing to be ashamed about. It is a sign of strength and intelligence that you are seeking help.

In many cultures, people with mental breakdown signs are often told to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get over it’. This can do more harm than good and conveys an impression that the person is being overly indulgent with themselves or that they are weak. It might cause the person to spiral downwards into deeper symptoms, or may trigger outbursts of rage or frustration.

If you find yourself responding with impatience to the mental breakdown signs in someone you love, you should step away from the situation for a while. Bringing in professional help at this point is a good idea.

What will a mental health professional do?

A mental breakdown may be mild or severe. Those with severe symptoms may be at risk of suicide or self-harm, so it is important to get help as soon as possible in such cases. A doctor or a counsellor can help process emotions, create coping mechanisms and channel energy towards more constructive actions.

A counsellor can be a safe and impartial listener for someone who needs to talk but finds it hard to express themselves to their loved ones. Most emotional breakthroughs take time and effort on the part of the counsellor and the person attending the sessions. If the mental breakdown seems dangerous or severe, a course of prescription drugs can regulate emotions and reactions, and give everyone time to adjust.

If you think you or someone close to you is on the verge of a mental breakdown, Avaana can help you find a counsellor near you.  

Avatar for Mish Khot

Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

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