Most people will have bad days, or weeks, when coping with life’s stresses seems more of a challenge than usual.
Even the most fortunate and optimistic of folk will face some ups and downs, and feeling overwhelmed at times is normal.
Hopefully though, with time, support and a little R&R, the stress passes.
But sometimes it doesn’t, and coping in the usual sense of the word no longer works, leading to what’s commonly known as a nervous breakdown.
But at what point does ‘feeling stressed’ turn into a full-blown breakdown?
Experts say that a breakdown is a general term used to describe a significant episode of anxiety or depression.
Rather than being a single diagnosis, it’s more about the culmination of signs that a person is finding it increasingly difficult to cope, and has reached a point where they’re struggling to function with everyday life. Depression and anxiety are key factors.
When people are extremely low or stressed, rather than wanting to reach out to others, they often want to shut themselves away.
Depression is far more than just feeling low. It causes many other problems, including difficulty making decisions, inability to cope with everyday tasks, loss of interest and enjoyment in life, sleeplessness, lack of appetite, lack of self-confidence and feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. Many depressed people will also be irritable and angry and may seem ‘out of character’.
Anxiety, which can also lead to breakdowns, is the state when people feel a heightened sense of worry and are extremely ‘on edge’ about things.
While depression and anxiety can occur entirely separately, they often go hand in hand, and many people will go to their GP with symptoms of both. Suicidal thoughts are also a sign of a breakdown.
Relationship breakdowns, periods of ill health and bereavement can all be triggers.
But often, it’s more a case of a build-up of extreme stress over a period of time, and the most important aspect is to recognise that things are becoming a problem.
Research shows that economic hard times are a factor, too, leading to increased rates of depression, with redundancy a common factor.
What leads a person to this point varies greatly from individual to individual.
Beth Murphy, of the mental health charity Mind, explains that callers to their helpline often say they’re not able to cope any more and can’t understand what’s happening to them, because they feel sad all the time and can’t stop crying.
‘We’ve seen a surge in calls to our helpline recently, and certainly the economic climate isn’t helping. We’ve seen an increase in calls about employment and worries about money and debt. That’s playing on people’s minds and adding to the stresses that might already be there.’
While stress from environmental factors is often a trigger, it’s important to remember that for some people, depression can arise ‘out of the blue’ as well.
Research suggests that there may be genetic factors – some people may be more prone to depression and anxiety if there’s a family history.
Early life experiences can sometimes play a part, too, as this is when people develop many of the foundations for their coping mechanisms later in life, and too much anxiety in early life may lead to increased anxiety in adulthood.
Avoiding a breakdown may be possible, though, if a person is able to recognise early on that their stress levels or depression is becoming a problem, and address the issue before it gets worse.
This could mean taking time out, or seeking professional support, by visiting your GP or getting in touch with a mental health charity or organisation.
For details of support call the Mind helpline on 0300 123 3393 or visit mind.org.uk For more information on other mental health issues, visit rcpsych.ac.uk