The term nervous breakdown” is not a medical term and is not listed as a psychiatric disorder in any medical text. It is a publicly (non-medically) coined term used in common language and speech to indicate a highly stressed state of mind.
A person having a nervous breakdown may have been greatly depressed or anxious for a long period of time before the breakdown. In extreme cases of breakdown, people also lose their awareness of reality, which is also known as impaired reality testing.Day to day activities and chores are seen as impossible tasks by nervous wrecks.
The day to day pressures of life and an inclination towards the all or nothing’ thinking, add up to a nervous breakdown. “Nervous breakdown” is a casual general public term with no medical text acknowledging it.
More precisely one should refer to the state of nervous breakdown as the ‘Exhaustion Phas’ of the General Adaption Syndrome. It is caused by extreme stress. This stress includes academic pressures, parental and institutional hassles, peer pressure, big purchases, changes in eating and sleeping cycles, relocation to different cities and even harsh climatic conditions.
General Adaption Syndrome
The general adaption syndrome has three notable phases namely alarm, resistance, and exhaustion, when listed in order of their occurrence. The phases are restricted and synchronized by the adrenal glands, which are located right above the kidneys in humans.
The hormone adrenaline and noradrenaline are released by the inner side of the adrenal gland called adrenal medulla. Whenever any stressful situation arises it is these hormones that deal with it. Adrenal cortex, which is the outer side of the adrenal gland, produces hormones like glucocorticoids and mineralcorticoids. These hormones help the body cope with periods of extended stress.
Onset of the Breakdown
The body can deal with stress only up to a threshold beyond which a person will reach the exhaustion stage of the general adaptation syndrome. At this stage, glucocorticoids levels have been depleted and are no longer replenished by the adrenal cortex.
As a consequence, no extra nutrients and sugar reach the body cells in need of it. A further mineral imbalance occurs when excess amounts of potassium are released in the blood stream. This imbalance heavily increases the load on the brain, blood vessels, heart and other body parts.
Consequences of the breakdown
In overtly stressful situations either the whole body or a specific organ may collapse. Stress has also been found to be related to depression, cancer, PMS, menstrual problems, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, ulcers and arthritis. Dissolution of personality albeit provisional may occur and is described in layman’s language as snapping.
People experiencing a nervous breakdown also cry unmanageably and lose interest and pleasure in all day to day chores. They may also gain or lose weight drastically. The patients experience horrible confusion, stupefaction and intense thoughts of insignificance, culpability and desolation.