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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 going mad or losing control.
The truth is that, for better or worse, most people can tolerate the drudgery of feeling “pretty awful” for a very long period of time without there being any real danger of losing control, doing something “crazy,” “going mad,” or “breaking down.”
In fact, that 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 likely millions of people out there who, like you, feel as if their brains might just melt out their ears one day. That said, there are warning signs that can suggest you are headed for that mental breakdown.
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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 headed for a breakdown.
The expression simply means that you’re suffering enough that, for one reason or another, you feel as if you’re getting closer and closer to a place where you cannot go on. In extreme cases, it might mean you’re feeling suicidal. It might be that you’re getting angrier and angrier and afraid that 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—are simply not possible for you anymore. You might be dealing with stresses such as an illness in yourself or a loved one that you simply cannot face anymore.
Under such circumstances, it is possible that you are indeed headed for some sort of breakdown, either physical or emotional, so it’s time to seek help.
Mental Breakdown Symptoms: 15 to Consider
Here are 15 signs that you might be close to the edge:
- Someone has expressed concern that you’re behaving strangely or self-destructively.
- Your body seems to be no longer able to function properly.
- You can no longer face basic responsibilities, such as caring for a child or parent who depends on you.
- You cannot or have great difficulty getting out of bed.
- You’re afraid you will not be able to control your temper and might do something destructive or dangerous or hurt someone.
- You’re feeling completely and utterly without any hope.
- You’re feeling utterly overwhelmed most or all of the time.
- You’re having negative feelings, such as loneliness, pain, or anxiety, that simply feel unbearable.
- You’re increasingly concerned that a person or group are out to get you.
- You’re no longer able to maintain a safe place to live or get enough food to eat.
- You’re resorting more and more to drugs or alcohol just to get through the day.
- You’re experiencing frequent mood swings.
- You frequently feel restless and agitated.
- You’re starting to hear or see things that are not there.
- You’re thinking about harming yourself or someone else.
If any of the above apply to you, it’s time to find help. If you’re able to hold on until there’s an available appointment, set one up with your doctor to discuss troubling issues. You can also try talking with a trusted friend or a member of the clergy. If you’re really on the edge and need help immediately, go to the emergency room of your local hospital, call 911, or call a suicide hotline such as 800-SUICIDE or 800-273-TALK.
The Breaking Point
It’s important to recognize that having a mental breakdown 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—and 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 just can’t take things anymore, reach out for help.
For more information that may help, see these University Health News posts:
- “6 Tips to Conquer Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Symptoms“
- “How to De-Stress: 4 Proven Tactics“
- “How to Deal with Stress“
Originally published in 2017 and regularly updated.