You may have heard people in your life or even just in the media use the term “mental breakdown” or “nervous breakdown” and wondered what exactly that looks and feels like. If someone you are close to uses that phrase, you might be confused by what they mean and what to do next.

When a person talks about reaching breaking point or having a “breakdown” they are generally referring to feeling overwhelmed physically, mentally and emotionally by the stresses of life. But it isn’t a medical term.

The term breakdown isn’t a medical one but can be helpful for people to describe what they are going through. Often, they will have an underlying diagnosis that can be identified when they seek professional help.


Signs of a breakdown or a mental health condition will differ between people but may be noticed through changes in behaviour like:

  • Reduced personal hygiene
  • Isolating themselves
  • Losing their temper much more quickly than normal
  • Inability to concentrate and getting distracted easily
  • Changes in their appetite
  • Feeling paranoid
  • Sleep interruptions
  • Feel exhausted or sore all the time

When these signs start to appear without any other reasonable explanation help should be sought.

More information on this topic can be found on the Australian Government Health Direct website.


Resources for workers, their families and employers to assist with prevention, management and recovery from work-related psychological injury or mental illness are available on our Mental Health collection page.