Mental Breakdown Symptoms: a Checklist

Aaarrgh! If you’re experiencing what we might call a mental breakdown (symptoms listed below), consider our advice for getting help.

mental breakdown symptoms

Mental breakdown symptoms—see 15 of them listed in our lead story—can have you feeling on the edge.

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When people are suffering from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, they often ask themselves, “Am I having a mental breakdown?” Intense, negative feelings and any number of mental breakdown symptoms can make you feel like you’re losing control.

The truth is that, for better or worse, most people are able to tolerate the drudgery of feeling “pretty awful” for a long period of time without there being any real danger of losing control, doing something “crazy,” “going mad,” or “breaking down.” In fact, the feeling that you might be going crazy or are about to lose control is actually a common symptom of anxiety or depression. So, be assured that there are millions of people out there who, like you, feel as if their brains might just melt out of their ears one day.

That said, there are warning signs that can suggest you’re headed for a mental breakdown.

What Is a Mental Breakdown? Symptoms Tell the Story

Keep in mind that the phrase “mental breakdown” is not a medical term or official diagnosis. It has no clear-cut diagnostic criteria. There are no tests or checklists that can determine conclusively whether you’re experiencing one. The expression simply means that you’re suffering or struggling enough that you feel as if you’re getting closer and closer to a point where you cannot go on.

In extreme cases, mental breakdown symptoms might mean you’re feeling suicidal. It might be that you’re getting angrier and angrier, and perhaps afraid you might actually hurt someone. You could be losing touch with reality. You might feel that the responsibilities of daily living—getting up, getting dressed, eating, and going to work or taking care of your children or family members—are simply not possible anymore. You also might be dealing with stresses such as an illness (or an illness in a loved one) that you simply cannot face anymore. Under such circumstances, it’s time to seek help.

15 Mental Breakdown Symptoms

Here are 15 signs that you might be close to the edge:

  1. Someone has expressed concern that you’re behaving strangely or self-destructively.
  2. Your body seems to be no longer able to function properly.
  3. You can no longer face basic responsibilities, such as caring for a child or parent who depends on you.
  4. You have great difficulty getting out of bed.
  5. You’re afraid you won’t be able to control your temper and might do something destructive or dangerous or hurt someone.
  6. You feel completely without hope.
  7. You feel overwhelmed most or all of the time.
  8. You’re having negative feelings—such as loneliness, pain, or anxiety—that begin to feel unbearable.
  9. You’re increasingly concerned that people are out to get you.
  10. You’re no longer able to maintain a safe place to live or to get enough food to eat.
  11. You’re resorting more and more to drugs or alcohol just to get through the day.
  12. You’re experiencing frequent mood swings.
  13. You frequently feel restless and agitated.
  14. You’re starting to hear or see things that are not there.
  15. You’re thinking about harming yourself or someone else.

If any of the above apply to you, set up an appointment with your doctor to discuss troubling issues. You can also try talking with a trusted friend or a member of the clergy. If you have any thoughts of suicide or if you feel that you may be a danger to yourself or others, you need help immediately. Go to the emergency room of your local hospital, call 911, or call a suicide hotline such as 800-273-TALK or 800-SUICIDE.

The Breaking Point

It’s important to recognize that having mental breakdown symptoms is not a sign of weakness. The human spirit can take only so much stress, anxiety, and pressure before it falters. Everyone has his or her breaking point; often, we don’t even know what that point is unless we are tested.

For some of us, dropping out of school and losing the support of our parents can be enough to send us over the edge. Others may appear almost superhuman, taking care of children, parents, or other vulnerable people while holding down a full-time job and living with a chronic disease. The point is not to compare. If you feel like you can’t take things the way they are anymore, reach out for help.


See also this page from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, this one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and this resource from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Originally published in 2017.

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Alison Palkhivala

Alison Palkhivala is an award-winning writer and journalist specializing in lifestyle, nutrition, health, and medicine. She has authored the Belvoir special report Overcoming Depression and the University Health News book … Read More

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