You’ve heard the story before: A friend works 60 hours a week completing project after project, with no end in sight — and suddenly she “snaps.” She stops taking care of herself, avoids social events, and can’t handle the tasks of everyday life.
In other words, she has a mental breakdown.
It’s what “happens when a person is experiencing really significant distress or real functional impairment,” says psychologist J. Ryan Fuller, PhD, the clinical director of New York Behavioral Health.
And while the term “mental breakdown” is often used to describe this sort of scenario, it’s actually “an anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder, or mood disorder that’s triggered by a major life transition such as job-related stress or a traumatic event,” Fuller tells Yahoo Health.
Symptoms of a breakdown can vary from person to person.
Sometimes there’s a panic attack, or strong feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or confusion.
Others see hallucinations or spirits, David S. Ullmann, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York City, tells Yahoo Health.
In some cases, a person in distress is no longer able to function at work or home, or take care of basic needs like eating or maintaining hygiene, he says. It may lead to depression or thoughts of suicide.
Mental breakdowns are often brief, and can be treated through meetings with a cognitive behavioral therapist.
Natural resiliencies kick in and the person can go back to work, or interacting with their family and friends as they did before.
But when the crisis is severe and creates a safety risk for the distressed or those around him or her, a daily psychiatric program or psychiatric hospitalization may be recommended.