Causes & symptoms of nervous breakdowns

Updated April 17, 2017

Someone is experiencing a nervous breakdown when they have reached their emotional and physical limit and are finding the pressures and stress of life too overwhelming to handle. Unlike the stressful feelings many people occasionally experience, a breakdown prevents a person from functioning as they normally would. The reasons people experience breakdowns are unique to their circumstances, and the symptoms that sufferers display will also vary from person to person.

Causes of Nervous Breakdowns

Dr. Cosmo Hallstrom, a consultant psychiatrist and clinical psychopharmacologist, identifies the interaction of three interlinking factors as causing nervous breakdowns: genetic predisposition, an individual's emotional resilience and a triggering event. A study by Indiana University found that more than 25 per cent of Americans have at some point felt themselves to be on the verge of a breakdown, most commonly because of relationship issues and/or the stresses of being a single parent. Another reason breakdowns occur is because of a culmination of smaller pressures over a period of time. According to Dr. Phillip Timms, consultant psychiatrist to the South London and Mudsley Trust, breakdowns are the product of emotional build-up from not dealing with a depressive episode.

Behavioural Symptoms

How well someone is coping with stress and pressure in their life is usually illustrated through their behaviour. Telltale signs that someone is having difficulty coping include if they are crying unexpectedly, talking less, having difficulty concentrating or just do not seem to be their usual self. According to Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin of the Mayo Clinic, missing appointments, calling in sick to work for long durations and avoiding social engagements are other indicators that someone may be experiencing a breakdown.

Emotional Symptoms

Feelings of incompetence and an inability to cope are often contributing factors to nervous breakdowns, as well as common emotional symptoms felt by breakdown sufferers. According to Elly Prior, a practicing, accredited counsellor for more than 20 years, someone experiencing a breakdown may feel overcome by sensations of panic, irritability, fear and anger. Hopelessness, anxiety and depression are also common emotional symptoms felt by people going through a nervous breakdown. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for sufferers to become withdrawn from loved ones and lose their sense of pleasure for things that they would normally find enjoyable.

Physical Symptoms

Along with emotional and behavioural signs, some people who suffer a nervous breakdown also display physical symptoms, including insomnia, loss of appetite, stomach troubles, trembling, sweating, heart irregularity and lightheadedness. Pre-existing health issues such as migraines, eczema, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome may be exacerbated by a nervous breakdown. Some people experiencing a breakdown have lowered immunity and are very slow to recover from minor ailments, such as the common cold.

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