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Signs of psychological decompensation

Updated November 21, 2016

Decompensation is the psychological term used when a person is showing signs of deterioration regarding their daily functioning such as working, doing housework, errands, and personal care. When someone is no longer able to cope and manage their typical daily activities, they should seek professional help to overcome symptoms of decompensation.

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Everyone usually experiences normal, everyday stress such as deadlines at work, conflict with children, or financial hardship. When a person's stress levels are higher than their ability to cope with stress, especially over a long period of time, the person may show signs of psychological decompensation. This could be manifested with signs such as being easily startled/alarmed, resistance/shutting down or psychological exhaustion to the point where they are no longer able to function at work or at home like they normally could.


Many people experience different levels of depression throughout their lifetime. However, a person going through a severe clinical depressive episode may be so depressed that they experience psychological decompensation. Signs of depression may be a lack of concentration, or an inability to function effectively at work, carry out household tasks, keep up personal hygiene, or maintain social relationships. People experiencing this kind of debilitating depression should seek professional treatment.


Parents sometimes turn to wilderness therapy programs to treat youth with behavioural/social issues. When an event or environment exceeds a young person's ability to adjust and cope, signs of psychological decompensation may appear such as "child-like" behaviour, wetting the bed at night, lack of personal hygiene, disorganised behaviour, a significant change in energy, and loss of interest in activities they would normally enjoy. It may be difficult to correctly assess psychological decompensation in these cases; some youth are extremely manipulative or have been professionally diagnosed with defiant or oppositional disorder.


A person who has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic typically takes daily medication to control delusions, hallucinations and/or paranoia. If someone with schizophrenia goes off their medication, they may show signs of decompensation such as becoming paranoid, hallucinating, or experiencing a psychotic break with reality. On medication, their mental health symptoms may not be noticeable, but once they begin to decompensate, their symptoms will be obvious.

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About the Author

Dawn Sutton

Dawn Sutton began her writing career in 2004 with an article on Internet counseling for a psychology journal. She writes numerous Internet articles on a variety of subjects including health, travel, education, crafts and much more. Sutton has published the books "The Manual" and "God's Girl" and numerous feature film scripts. She has a master's degree in social work from the University of Toronto.

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