Mental breakdown: a new term for when we reach the limit

Terminology is important. At the level of mental health, we need rigorous professional expression, but also colloquial language that helps us talk about certain challenges related to mental health while feeling free from stigma.

Mental breakdown: a new term for when we reach the limit

Last update: 28 April, 2022

mental breakdown refers to a period of “mental collapse” or “break of calm and mental health”. Although it is an Anglo-Saxon term, it has become popular in non-English speaking countries. Above all, it is used among young people, assuming it as a common and non-reprehensible expression.

Young people feel taboo about talking about their feelings, and these popular terms help them express themselves and “break the ice”. However, doing it only with a non-native language term reveals that there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health.

What does mental breakdown mean?

mental breakdown is a term to describe a period of intense stress in which the person feels unable to cope with life’s challenges. Historically, it has referred to episodes of “sudden and uncontrollable madness.”

This “mind break” varies from person to person. Some may fall into depression with a loss of hope in all their projects. Others face it with insomnia or even hallucinations.

The mental breakdown refers to what used to be called “nervous breakdown” or “mental collapse”. Nervous breakdown was a term used decades ago to describe a series of feelings associated with severe discomfort.

It was about being extremely overwhelmed, with symptoms ranging from depression to anxiety to psychosis, so that functioning was behaviorally disrupted. This term was used much after the First and Second World Wars. Since then, its recurrence has decreased.

The term mental breakdown is not used in the clinical setting.

The mental breakdown in famous people

The media is constantly reporting on young stars and how their early fame has consequences that overwhelm their emotional coping resources.

The constant attention, the need to be in the public eye and the various reports that affect all aspects of a person’s life are addictive and stressful. They may have wanted to be stars, but in few cases have they wanted to be a model of anything.

It is a difficult and demanding position and the slightest mistake can lead to a heavy fall. The transition from anonymous to famous can be great. The spotlight can give a feeling of happiness and recognition, but it can also it represents in many contexts a great shock to a young mind.

The non-scientific terms we use

Mental breakdown or nervous breakdown have never been medical terms. Like neither is it now mental breakdown. They are words that we use informally to make ourselves understood without being too “dense” in an informal or colloquial environment.

Nervous breakdowns were firmly believed by patients to be a psychiatric condition far worse than “ordinary” nerves, until the “great transition” to depression by the medical community.

However, even today, the concept of nervous breakdown has a kind of clandestine existence in the folklore of patients. It is not uncommon to hear this concept in everyday conversations, without knowing if it is something related to a depressive, bipolar or psychotic tendency. Still, we understand that this person has suffered a lot for a certain time and that message is enough.

With all this, we can intuit that there is great difficulty in communicating pain and psychological discomfort. For this reason, these terms are chosen to make themselves understood and, in some cases, to ask for help.

In modern Western countries, society has assumed a broad institutional responsibility for well-being and mental health status. We now live in a fully diagnostic culture that systematically collates and reorders our ailments into objective disorders.

Soon, we have become accustomed to and even used a psychiatric diagnostic languageboth to understand ourselves and to relate to ourselves and to others.

We perceive ourselves as institutional, legal and administratively defined patientstrapped in a professional language that almost completely threatens to take over and overshadow lived and experienced reality.

Therefore, we are not the same as our ancestors. We are not desperate, persecuted, alone, with pain and loss, despondent, heartbreak, grief, anguish or sad. Now we are mentally or psychically ill, we are depressed, anxious, obsessive, etc.

Furthermore, at the same time that we have begun to “believe it is right” in diagnosing our own disorders and pseudo-disorders, we have left behind traditional terms and forms of “folk psychology” to understand ourselves, when we struggle and get stuck with our psyche and our existence.

Sometimes it is wise and a great advantage to be able to turn to a mental health service and professionals when it comes to our ailments and life problems. However, it often feels too overwhelming for us to unravel the meaning of those diagnoses on our own.

Stress and anxiety are associated with mental breakdown.

Is it possible to express discomfort without feeling stigmatized?

Faced with the impossibility of being able to talk whenever we want with a professional about how we feel during the days, terms like mental breakdown they can help us express discomfort without feeling too stigmatized.

The population without training in psychology can be scared if they hear a loved one talk about bipolarity, Psychotic attack or dissociative episode.

All these colloquial terms, under certain circumstances, can play a positive role in our emotional self-care. We need an attitude and a language that can capture and express the deepest experiencewithout having to continually establish diagnostic charts.

Of course, always with some limits: just as there are colds for which we do not need to go to the doctor, there are also other conditions for which we do need to go to the specialist, whether medical or psychological.

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Mental breakdown: a new term for when we reach the limit


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