Think you’re having a nervous breakdown? Find out…

We tend to believe that we should take our troubles to Jesus, not some stranger/ psychiatrist.

Lena B. (complete name withheld), 58, suffered a nervous breakdown last summer after her beloved mother’s passing. “I just could not handle my mother no longer being here with me. She was my rock, best friend, confidant, my everything. I just could not see living my life without her in it. My world literally came to a halt after I buried my mother,” admits the Mount Vernon, New York resident. 

Clinicians once defined a nervous breakdown as a period of intense mental distress. During this time, you are unable to function mentally and physically in your daily life. Even though the once catchall term is rarely used these days by doctors who prefer the term ‘undiagnosed mental illness,’ it is still generally viewed as a time when life’s challenges become intolerable.


A nervous or mental breakdown does not have any defined symptoms aside from difficulty or inability to function “normally.” However, there are common signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • insomnia or unregulated sleep
  • hallucinations
  • extreme mood swings
  • panic attacks
  • paranoia
  • flashbacks of a traumatic life episode
  • unhealthy eating or hygiene
  • trouble focusing/remembering
  • feeling drained and physically/emotionally exhausted
  • no motivation
  • not able to enjoy the things that bring satisfaction
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • difficulty tolerating folks
  • suicidal thoughts or thinking about harming oneself
  • lack of sex drive
  • slowed speech
  • nightmares, scary flashbacks that cause heart-racing, sweat, when there is no danger


A nervous breakdown can occur when life’s challenges simply can’t be dealt with in a normal fashion:

  • the death of a loved one
  • work stress
  • loneliness
  • finances that are out of control
  • divorce or break up of a relationship
  • chronic medical conditions
  • not able to unwind or destress

Managing your mental state

Not everyone can manage the state of their mental health by themselves. In the Black community, sixty-three percent of us believe that mental illness is a personal weakness. Family and community members often insist on prayer as a singular solution over seeking professional treatment for a mental issue. We tend to believe that we should take our troubles to Jesus, not some stranger/ psychiatrist.

Without proper treatment, mental health conditions can worsen and make day-to-day life practically unbearable. Silence and stoicism – denying oneself help in order to appear strong – need to be overcome! 

If you feel your mental state is beyond your control, you can do a few things:

  • Make an appointment to see your primary care doctor to rule out any other underlying medical issues
  • Consider talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (a form of therapy that seeks to identify and help change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors)
  • Discuss with your doctor how you are feeling, and they can perhaps prescribe an antidepressant, antianxiety or antipsychotic medication
  • Try to resolve your sources of stress like conflicts at home or job demands
  • Confide in friends, partners, or a trusted family member about how you are feeling
  • Check out online support groups
  • Do not excessively use nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol
  • Don’t use illicit drugs
  • Try yoga or tai chi as these types of exercises help to bring about calm
  • Devise a healthy and beneficial eating, sleeping and hygiene schedule

For more information on how to find free or very affordable mental health care, check out our feature…“Need therapy and can’t afford it?”