What is the Difference Between a Psychotic Break and a Nervous Breakdown?

psychotic break or nervous breakdown

What is the Difference Between a Psychotic Break and a Nervous Breakdown?

Dealing with high stress daily can make it difficult to cope with everyday life. When someone does not have the proper coping mechanisms to cope with stress, it begins to accumulate. This can lead an individual to suffer from more extreme mental health phenomena, such as a nervous breakdown or a psychotic break.

Almost everyone has heard the term “mental breakdown.” Some people even use it as an exaggerated term to explain the current frustrations we are going through. However, mental or nervous breakdowns are actually considered a severe mental status that indicates a mental health emergency.

High levels of mental distress can also cause individuals to experience psychotic breaks. Psychotic breaks and mental breakdowns are very different, but how?

What are Nervous Breakdowns?

Nervous breakdown is a term that refers to an individual experiencing some form of psychological crisis. The term mental breakdown is used interchangeably with a nervous breakdown. While a nervous breakdown is not an official psychological diagnosis, it can indicate that an individual is suffering from some sort of mental health condition.

The word “nervous” refers to an individual’s nervous system. This is the part of the brain that sends chemical messages to other parts of the body, including the body’s fight or flight responses. When someone is having a nervous breakdown, their nervous system is not functioning properly, causing them to experience significant symptoms of a mental health emergency.

Nervous breakdowns occur most commonly during a period of an individual’s life that causes an immense amount of stress. As the individual deals with this stress, they are unable to cope healthily. This causes the stressors to compound on top of one another, creating something that could be referred to as a “mountain of stress.”

Examples of stressors that can lead to a nervous breakdown include:

  • Sudden loss of a job
  • The death of a loved one or friend
  • Losing a home
  • Losing an important relationship
  • Struggling financially
  • Being in an abusive relationship or any kid
  • Experiencing a trauma
  • Having or caring for someone with a chronic illness

The Signs of a Mental Breakdown

The underlying causes of a mental breakdown are diverse and wide-ranging. Because of this, individuals can exhibit a broad range of symptoms, including:

  • Depressed mood accompanied by feelings of guilt, sadness, and hopelessness
  • Lack of motivation and a loss of interest in beloved activities
  • Mood swings
  • Outbursts of violence or anger
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Significant changes in eating, sleeping, or daily habits
  • Physical illness including aches and pains
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Social withdrawal or isolation from loved ones
  • Paranoia or anxiety that persists
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicidal behaviors and attempts
  • Delusional thinking or hallucinations
  • Flashbacks to previously experienced traumas
  • Feeling detached from oneself or one’s environment

Mental breakdowns are not something that should be taken lightly, especially when an individual shows signs of suicidal thoughts. Individuals experiencing this mental health crisis should attend an inpatient mental health treatment center like Florida Recovery Group.

What is a Psychotic Break?

While a mental breakdown can include a psychotic break, this mental health crisis is its own mental health diagnosis. A psychotic break typically refers to the first time individuals experience the symptoms of a psychotic episode or when they begin to experience symptoms after a period of remission from psychosis.

Psychotic episodes usually occur in individuals who have a mental health condition that can lead to symptoms of psychosis like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. However, other mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder can lead to a psychotic break if the individual is experiencing severe symptoms.

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, “During a period of psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not.  Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear).”[1]

These episodes usually include symptoms of delusions, hallucinations, and extreme paranoia. It is important to note that psychotic breaks must be treated professionally, as the individual can begin to experience self-harming behaviors or become a danger to those around them.

The Signs of a Psychotic Episode

While psychosis does not sound like something that commonly occurs, this mental health emergency happens more often than someone would think.

The National Institute of Mental Health explains, “Three out of 100 people will experience psychosis at some time in their lives. About 100,000 adolescents and young adults in the US experience their first episode of psychosis each year.”[2]

The symptoms of a psychotic break include:

  • Struggling to sleep (insomnia)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble understanding what one is reading
  • Difficulty understanding what is being said
  • Seeing shadows and flashes of light
  • Hearing a ringing sound
  • Hearing voices that others cannot hear
  • Smelling or tasting things that others cannot
  • Experiencing sensations that other people do not feel
  • Depression
  • Thoughts of suicide or ideations

The risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts is extremely high during a psychotic episode. Because of this, individuals experiencing the symptoms of a psychotic break should seek professional help as soon as possible.

Finding Help for a Mental Health Emergency

Whether you or your loved one is experiencing the symptoms of a nervous breakdown or a psychotic episode, professional mental health treatment programs can help. Mental health emergencies can lead to a wide range of adverse effects, including suicide.

At Florida Recovery Group, we offer treatment for an array of addiction issues and mental health conditions. Contact us today to see how we can help.


  1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/raise/what-is-psychosis
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/raise/fact-sheet-first-episode-psychosis