SELF – Prince Harry Says He Came Close to a ‘Breakdown’ On Several Occasions—What You Should Know

Prince Harry has come out about his own mental health struggles following the death of his mother. In describing his ordeal, and how he has come to terms with  it, he has discussed having had a “breakdown.” SELF asked me to weigh in on what exactly a breakdown is, and what readers need to know. I was very pleased to help out with another great piece by Korin Miller.

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Licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., agrees. “[‘Mental breakdown’] is used widely to describe severe symptoms of severe anxiety and depression in an otherwise non-symptomatic person and is time limited,” she says. “It is characterized by acute onset of symptoms and a sense of being overwhelmed.” From a DSM-5 perspective, Clark says it’s closest to a severe adjustment disorder (a group of symptoms, like stress, sadness, or hopelessness that a person can experience after a stressful life event), or acute stress disorder (i.e. developing severe anxiety and other symptoms within a month after a traumatic event).

This feeling of having a mental breakdown often happens in response to an acute grief, life-changing crisis, or trauma, Clark says. “Intense anxiety, including panic and devastating loss are often part of this scenario, along with a sense of hopelessness and doubts about being able to move on with life,” she says. “It can be particularly severe when such a situation happens on top of somebody who is already stressed and emotionally vulnerable.”

People who feel that they’re on the cusp of a mental breakdown often feel that they can’t cope, which Clark says is a big indicator that they need help. “At their worst, people can lose touch with reality and feel like they are ‘losing their mind,’” she says. “Beliefs that are out of touch with reality along with perceptual disturbances can indicate the beginning of psychotic symptoms and should be taken very seriously.” People are usually aware that they’re not feeling “normal,” Gilliland says, but a small number of people can actually lose touch with reality.

People who feel that they’re suffering from a breakdown are typically aware that they need help, but Clark says they may mistakenly feel that they’re beyond help. “It can make engaging in treatment very difficult,” she says. However, she adds, “help is readily available and quite effective.” Exact treatment would depend on your actual medical diagnosis, but Clark says medications, self-care, and therapy can be effective at moving people beyond feeling that they’re on the edge of a mental breakdown.

Saltz says it’s “absolutely possible” to recover from many of the conditions that feel like a mental breakdown. However, Clark point out that you have to seek help first. “The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, help is available, and you will get through this—perhaps stronger and better for it in the end,” she says.

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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