Nervous Breakdown Tendency

Nervous Breakdown Tendency: Overview

Alternative names: Mental Breakdown Tendency

The term nervous breakdown has faded from medical terminology but the symptoms of the illness have not changed: a sense of utter fatigue, low energy, little motivation, anxiety, agitation, sleeping too little or too much, a loss of appetite, guilty ruminations and hopelessness.

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Some conditions called "nervous breakdowns" are really episodes of major depression or a psychotic disorder of some type.  Psychotic disorders are generally more closely related to genetic and biological factors, but depression influenced more by social and environmental factors.

Incidence; Causes and Development

The nervous breakdown has been a staple of American life and literature for more than a century.  About a third of Americans say they once felt on the verge of a nervous breakdown or had a mental health problem.  Recent studies have found that an estimated 23% of Americans suffer some form of mental illness during their lives.

As well as those mentioned below, underlying factors behind a nervous breakdown tendency include:

  • Genetics (a family history of nervous breakdowns)
  • Medical conditions such as vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disorders, movement disorders, skin and limb problems
  • Extreme guilt or other emotional problems

Signs and Symptoms

Perhaps the only symptom of this condition that has remained constant over the years is mental and physical exhaustion, a feeling that an overloaded machine has finally blown.  "You don't shave.  You don't shower, you don't brush your teeth.  You don't care", said the actor Rod Steiger about his experience.

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Diagnosis and Tests

Most psychiatrists sniff at the term 'nervous breakdown', considering it to be inexact, yet among the general public the term is still widely used and understood to mean snapping under extreme pressure; getting to a point in life where you can't carry on.  In one study, those most likely to say they had anticipated a nervous breakdown were young, white single mothers with low incomes and no involvement with organized religion.

Over the years, psychiatry has gradually subdivided the term into more precise diagnostic categories.  Today, nervous breakdowns may be "acute psychotic breaks" or "schizophrenic episodes", as when people suddenly become convinced that aliens have planted listening devices in their teeth, or "manic breaks".  They may also be "panic attacks", the hot new malady that is quickly replacing depression as the mental illness of choice.  The current diagnosis that most closely resembles the traditional nervous breakdown is "major depressive episode," in which a person may experience a sustained fatigue and loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities.

Treatment and Prevention

A person operates as a single unit.  What affects the body affects the mind, and what affects the mind affects the body.  Physical, genetic and dietary factors join with past experiences and mental outlook to determine a person's ability to handle new and ongoing stresses, expectations and disappointments.  Resolution usually requires some combination of counseling, supportive relationships, change in circumstance and habit, nutritional support, removal of biochemical imbalances/deficiencies, medication and time.  The solution is uniquely different for each person.

Conditions that suggest Nervous Breakdown Tendency:

Symptoms - Mind - Emotional

Risk factors for Nervous Breakdown Tendency:


Addictions / Addictive Tendencies

Drug abuse – in particular cocaine use – is a predisposing factor for having nervous breakdowns.


Symptoms - Mind - Emotional

Recently going through divorce

A 1996 study found that problems with intimate relationships, such as divorce or marital separation, contributed to 24% of nervous breakdowns.

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Nervous Breakdown Tendency suggests the following may be present:


Alcohol-related Problems

Alcohol and drug abuse frequently contribute to nervous breakdowns.



There is always a trigger for a nervous breakdown, but underlying contributing factors such as depression are normally present.


Anxiety surrounding major life changes such as divorce, unemployment, pregnancy, labor, motherhood or menopause, can contribute to a nervous breakdown.

Recommendations for Nervous Breakdown Tendency:

Laboratory Testing


Vitamin B12 (Cobalamine)

Chronic mild to moderate B12 deficiency may be associated with nervousness.  A study was carried out on 1081 healthy young men aged 17-29 which measured current mental state through the 'Adjective Check List' test.  There was a very high correlation (p<0.05) between those found to be chronically deficient in vitamin B12 (based on repeated measures of plasma cobalamin levels) and those who were found to be significantly more anxious.

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