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A nervous breakdown, also known as a mental breakdown is a sudden, acute attack of mental illness such as depression or anxiety. Like sanity, the term is not recognized by the psychological community. In part, this is because the term has pejorative connotations, while this phenomenon is a normal and relatively common response to chronic stress. Often, the emerging illness is only described as a "breakdown" when the person becomes unable to function, at which point the disorder is advanced. Often, the supposed breakdown is a manifestation of career burnout.
The psychiatric community rejects the term "nervous breakdown", in part, because it is not descriptive enough of the actual disorder and symptoms. A common diagnosis that follows such an event is brief reactive psychosis.
Causes of breakdown include chronic and unresolved grief; unemployment; academic, occupational, and social stress; chronic insomnia and other sleep disorders, serious or chronic illness in a family member; divorce; death of a family member; pregnancy; deception from a loved one; and other sudden major life changes.
Whatever the cause, the message to the sufferer is that they now become aware of their limits of tolerance to stress, the usual outcome eventually is a more robust personality that interacts with stresses of life with more self care, although this may take time—sometimes years. Sometimes the sufferer develops strengths once not known to themselves which can also lead to a dramatic recovery.
During a nervous breakdown, a person will go through a series of complex emotions: usually ones that he/she can't comprehend, or will refuse to comprehend. While these and other emotional/physical feelings vary greatly, the following is usually expected:
Extreme anger/confusion: Usually a person experiences these emotions shortly before "breaking down". But once they have shut themselves off from comprehending their feelings, they usually become confused to the point that they become angry. Their anger may be expressed in several ways: depression, destruction, self destruction, and many other passive/violent forms.
Crying: Because of the confusion and anger brought out by the breakdown, once the person begins to open up to interpreting their emotions: they will cry from the extreme emotional stress that they are now trying to relieve themselves of.
Loss of appetite: This may be brought about because of one of two reasons. The person experiencing the breakdown may be so upset with their situation that they starve themselves out of self-destruction; or they may do it because their mind is so confused in trying to reason through the high levels of stress that it does not feel the need to eat, almost as if eating is the last thing on the person's mind.
Nervous breakdowns can last for up to six months if left untreated. During this time the patient is disoriented, may have delusions of outer worldly abilities and they often require hospitalization. It is not known whether holistic treatments are sufficient in curing the patient, but traditional medication goes some way to making sure the patient is tranquilised and therefore gets sleep; something that is often most needed. Ultimately, what they need is rest. Sleep is the best treatment in the early stages.
Most commonly, nervous breakdowns are short, normally not lasting more than a week; however, they are often the external symptom of an underlying mental illness that if left untreated can lead to serious repercussions and have a lifelong effect on the sufferer.
A nervous breakdown is the acute manifestation of such illness and as such can lead to suicidal ideation or attempts at self-harm. The sufferer typically experiences what they feel as the total breakdown of ability to deal with even the most minimal stresses of day-to-day living and at its most extreme can become entirely non-functional and withdrawn.
Experiencing a nervous breakdown often predisposes the sufferer to the likelihood of further episodes, particularly if left untreated. However, this is not necessarily the case, and some people may have a one-off breakdown and no further episodes. Moreover, although treatment and medication may be necessary in some cases, some people are able to make a rebound without treatment. Although the recovery phase can take several years, it is possible to achieve it and to lead a successful life. That requires a high level of self-awareness and self-belief on the part of the person who has undergone the breakdown. The description above is scientifically recognized either as clinical depression, or Manic (bi-polar type) depression, basically Nervous breakdown scientifically speaking is a condition closest to 'Anxiety attack/s',often refer to as Panic attack/s.
In the Broadway show Les Misérables, Javert's Suicide (the song and the action) is based on Javert's mental breakdown. Javert recites this shortly before killing himself:
I am reaching, but I fall.And the stars are black and cold.As I stare into the void;Of a world, that cannot hold...
Sylvia Plath's novel "The Bell Jar" is a semi-autobiographical account which describes a precocious young woman's nervous breakdown .
The music of Syd Barrett, especially his solo work, is often regarded as characteristic of the feelings one experiences during a nervous breakdown. Barrett himself famously went through such an episode, perhaps exacerbated by his heavy experimentation with LSD. The following are the opening lines to 'Jugband Blues,' one of the last songs he wrote with Pink Floyd :
It's awfully considerate of you to think of me hereAnd I'm much obliged to you for making it clearThat I'm not here.