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Updated on April 2, 2009


The term "nervous breakdown" is a throwback to a time when mental health as a way to identify healthy interaction with others didn't exist. In ther old days you were insane, crazy, or 'loony." while still around, these are useless today and no serious mental health worker uses them.

At one time, those who acted "funny" or "wierd" might see a psychiatrist whose healing arsenal was limited. Those not responsive to psychodynamic therapy (the couch made famous in cartoons)would be shipped off to a "rest home" or "asylum," places that had a richly deserved reputation as nothing more than warehouses for hiding a family "secret." Movies such as "the Snake Pit" in the 1940's brought abuses to the attention of the pubic. Lobotomies, once highly respected, became a treatment of choice in state hospitals. One practictioner bragged of performing 100 of these a day. the lobotomy simply immobolized a patient, blunting affect and erasing memory.

One could escape the clutches of the mental health system, the bad publicity, and possible permanent residency by creating a new syndrome called a nervous breakdown. Here was a label all could live with. Who wanted to be called a maniac with its attending association with axe murderers? If you were in the movies and your schedule drove you to heavy libation of the spirits, you had a "nervous breakdown." Did nerves really break? Not really but a nervous breakdown was certainly more acceptable than "she's a drunk."

Remember that labels serve no useful purpose to a society hungry for "facts" about their favorite movie star. A psychiatrist who makes a diagnosis without seeing the person in question is more an entertainer than a mental health professional. In the mental health world, the patient always comes first. The patient can expect a high degree of privacy and that there is no likelihood that a conflict of interest will develop. Conflict can happen, for example, when a spouse is brought into the treatment environment to reenact communication patterns or to confront and clarify issues that are hidden or opaque. Taking sides can cause whatever has been achieved to go right out the window.

Remember, it is impossible to evaluate from afar. An assessment includes family and patient history, precipitating factors that lead to the present, physician evaluation, and laboratory findings. Preliminary diagnosis is often stated, post assessment but is not written in stone, can be and often does get changed to reflect overall assessment The final diagnosis is made by a psychiatrist or psychologist who then recommend course of treatment and prognosis.

Presently, for example,a diagnosis such as depression, anxiiety and depression, Agoraphobia, secondary to depression replaces " nervouis breakdown" as a DSM* classification. Hopefully, we can continue to replace such conveniences with scientific classification that more correctly identifys a particular family of mental disorders.

*Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (of Mental disorders).


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    • solarcaptain profile image

      mike king 9 years ago from california

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    • solarcaptain profile image

      mike king 9 years ago from california

      A transient reaction to stress usually doesn't come to the attention of mental health providers. Often young people show up in a college counseling setting with temporary sympoms that would go away on their own once the stressors are removed. If they have reached another level where they can't cope or function at all then other considerations come into play. Factors such as levels of impairment may be present. Sometimes a couple days away from the stress can relieve the tension and the person can function effectively again. However, There are cases of individuals retreating behind closed doors for months on end, sometimes emerging to seek help finally. after someone at home has supported thier illness.

      In mental health settings, transient, or temporary symptoms will resolve themselves as early as an initial consultation. A trained observer has no difficulty at all recognizing and differentiating between normal stress and psychopathology. There is a fallacy that mental health services are looking for pathological symptoms in everyone so they can prescribe medications. There is no absense of real psychogical problems in communities today without throwing healthy subjects into the mix.

      There is not a problem when lay persons tend to minimailize problems in healthy individuals. Often a prescription to "get out a little more," or "play some tennis," is exactly what is needed for the blues. When things become serious, such as when a person stops eating or being part of life, other more serious stages with dire consequences may be triggered.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 9 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you solarcaptain.

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 9 years ago from Oakland, CA

      In fact, a nervous breakdown may or may not (and more often not) have anything to do with a diagnosable mental illness. Sometimes, under stress, your body has to go to extremes to bring to your attention that you need to take it easy. A nervous breakdown, or literal break down of ability to function in day to day life, can simply be your body or mind's last line of defense, forcing you in a very immediate and drastic way to scale back on your stressors.