"He just had a nervous breakdown." We hear it all the time. But what does it mean? "Nervous breakdown" is not a clinical diagnosis. But it is a way of explaining that your life has become completely unmanageable. Typically when you have what is described as a nervous breakdown, you cannot function in any of the normal routines of daily life. You miss work, or you do the job very badly. You may have long crying jags, frequent irrational rages, or episodes in which you go on buying binges, abruptly abandon family or simply talk utter nonsense. You may also be homicidal, suicidal or self-harming in other ways.
Get a Diagnosis
Questions to be asked: Are you or your loved one:
1) more depressed, more anxious, or a mix of both? 2) experiencing wide polarized mood swings? 3) having hallucinations (hearing voices, seeing or feeling things that are not really there)? 4) exhibiting delusional behavior (believing things that are not really true)? 5) exhibiting behaviors that would harm yourself or others?
If you or someone you love is having a nervous breakdown, the first step is to go quickly to a specialist who can provide a diagnosis and make the next essential decisions. Most often the first step in this process is a hospital emergency room. You may even need to call 911 for rapid response. But you can be of help to the professional by providing an accurate history. Honestly answering the above and any other questions asked to the best of your knowledge will help the professional to diagnose you or your loved one.
Hospitalization May Be Necessary
If you've reached this level of dysfunction, more often than not you will need at least a brief hospitalization. The purpose of this kind of hospitalization is to stabilize you on the appropriate medications. Once stabilization is complete you can be discharged to begin to work on the causes of your problem in outpatient therapy. Sometimes, dependent on the diagnosis and its severity, long term care may be needed, which will help you stabilize on medication and work on the cause of your problem simultaneously.
Once you are stabilized on medication, therapy is the next best step. There are many different kinds of therapy, so in order to start looking for a therapist you must know your diagnosis. For example, if you have an anxiety disorder, then Cognitive or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is recommended. If you are depressed, Cognitive, Gestalt, Existentialist and/or Person Centered therapy all work well. If you have been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder, a partial hospitalization or day treatment program which offers a milieu of classes, groups, individual and family therapy is recommended. Therefore, when you contact a therapist your first questions should be relative to your diagnosis. Once therapy is chosen, the work will have to do with determining the underlying causes of the original breakdown and learning new self-awareness, self-assessment and other skills that will help prevent another breakdown.